Roy Rivera is a disabled man who lives on a fixed income in Sacramento – and he’s also the first California resident to receive a free rooftop solar system. But he won’t be the last. Thanks to legislation first introduced by Senator Kevin de León, the Oakland-based non-profit GRID Alternatives plans to give 1,600 free solar panels to California’s poorest residents by 2016. The initiative was launched with funds gathered under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GCRF), the state’s cap-and-trade program designed to discourage carbon dioxide emissions.

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If it performs as expected, the 2.5 kW solar electric system will save Rivera $818 in the first year and $22,800 over its 30-year lifetime, according to GRID.

“We hope the savings will help defray some of my medical costs,” said Rivera. “When you have a budget like ours, which is stretched just about as far as you can go, it makes a big difference.”

Related: Peru to provide free solar to its poorest 2 million citizens

While many environmentalists are critical of cap-and-trade programs, which allow polluters to pay for credits to exceed greenhouse gas emissions limits, this program uses the funds to not only improve the lives of the state’s poorest citizens, who must live in disadvantaged neighborhoods with 80 percent below the median income level to qualify, according to SFGate, but also offsets greenhouse gas emissions by installing clean energy systems.

“I introduced SB 535 in 2011 to ensure that our disproportionately impacted communities benefit from investments in clean energy,” said Senator de León at the installation at Rivera’s home. “These investments will bring energy savings, quality jobs, and environmental benefits where they are needed most.”


Images via GRID Alternatives (1, 2) and Shutterstock (3,4)