By David Kligman
OAKLAND — Wearing a hard hat and a tool belt, Courtney Dittmar looked like a construction veteran as she led a team of volunteers installing solar panels on the roof of a small home in East Oakland.
In fact, it was only a year ago that she began learning about solar power. Dittmar has transformed her career into something completely different after she was laid off from her job of nine years at a Stanford math and computer sciences library.
Encouraged by a friend, she applied and was accepted as the first intern with the nonprofit GRID Alternatives, which provides rooftop solar installations for low-income residents throughout California.
PG&E is funding the $120,000 paid intern program. Dittmar’s internship, which ended Friday (Dec. 14), was based in Oakland. Early next year, three more internships will be filled — in Chico, Fresno and Atascadero in San Luis Obispo County.
The new career is invigorating for Dittmar, who said she loves to work outdoors and build things. More important, she said, she’s helping the environment.
“It’s needed,” Dittmar said during a break Friday from the installation of the 1.6-kilowatt system with the help of PG&E employee volunteers. “We can’t continue relying on gas and oil and coal because our planet is finite. Sure, the sun is finite but it’s not going to burn out for a while. We’re going to have solar for quite a long time. Hopefully people will realize that we need new methods of generating energy because there’s no going back to the horse and buggy. There’s no turning the clock back.”
PG&E’s solar partner
Since 2006, PG&E has contributed more than a half million dollars to GRID Alternatives’ Solar Affordable Housing Program to support green job training, financial benefits for income-qualified families and a reduction in carbon. GRID Alternatives has installed nearly all of the solar electric systems funded under the PG&E Solar Habitat program, a partnership between the utility and Habitat for Humanity.
“PG&E sees tangible benefits on many levels through our support for GRID Alternatives,” said Ezra Garrett, vice president of community relations and chief sustainability officer for PG&E. “Not only does GRID Alternatives provide career development in the critical solar energy sector, it also makes solar possible for members of our communities who otherwise wouldn’t have access to this environmentally responsible and money-saving technology.”
Of course, the owner of the Oakland home was excited for the new solar installation — a system that would have cost thousands of dollars. GRID Alternatives estimates that she will save $15,000 on her energy bill over the lifetime of the panels.
“It’s like having a big family out here today,” said Laura Sibley, an executive assistant for the Oakland Unified School District. “I’m single and times are tough right now, you know. It’s cold outside and I usually have my grandkids over and need to keep the house warm for them. The savings are going to really help me out.”
The intern program is just another way GRID Alternatives and PG&E are helping provide savings for families struggling to make ends meet, preparing workers for jobs in the fast-growing solar industry and cleaning the air.
PG&E made internships possible
Julian Foley, communications manager for GRID Alternatives, said her organization wouldn’t have been able to offer the three-month internships if it wasn’t for PG&E.
“It gives us an opportunity to offer paid employment,” she said.
Before being selected as the first PG&E solar intern, Dittmar completed nearly 300 volunteer hours with GRID Alternatives, commuting by bus, train and bicycle from her home in Mountain View to solar installations throughout the Bay Area.
Dittmar also is taking free classes at PG&E’s Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco to supplement her field experience. She has applied for a few solar jobs recently and said she is convinced the training is making her more competitive.
One thing is for certain. She doesn’t miss her old library job.
“It was enjoyable,” Dittmar said. “But sitting behind a desk for nine years? I think I’ve had enough of that.”
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.