Mendocino College’s Sustainable Technology Program has begun working in collaboration with GRID Alternatives, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization that installs solar panels on the homes of income-eligible families living in affordable housing zones.

In September, nine students spent the day installing a 4.6 Kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on the home of a Pinoleville Rancheria tribal member, in Mendocino.

“Students get to apply their knowledge and get hands-on experience using what they’ve learned, as well as things they haven’t covered yet. They can dive even deeper into tasks such as the design that happens before an installation, how the size of the array is determined, and the permit process,” said Michaela Ruppert, a SolarCorps Program Fellow with GRID.

Ruppert works out of GRID’s office in Willits, which serves Lake, Mendocino and Humboldt counties. It’s her job to help supervise and train the students during the installation.

The rooftop solar system the students installed in September will generate a projected $48,000 worth of electricity over the system’s lifetime, diverting over 100 tons of greenhouse gases- which is the equivalent of taking 19 cars off the road for a year, or planting 2,300 trees, Ruppert said.

The installation went so well, the students unanimously agreed to install another solar system in Fort Bragg in October.

“It’s one thing to learn it in the classroom, and another to hold the hardware and install it, said Sandy Tanaka, an instructor in the Sustainable Program.

Under Mendocino College’s sustainable program,students can earn a certificate in construction, renewable energy, or residential performance and efficiency.

Students enrolled in the construction component also get hands-on experience with building and framing projects that include building sheds to sell in Ukiah, and constructing a Tiny House. In Lake County, students complete community projects including building a stage for a museum and orphan dog houses.

As part of the program students also take a class on housing codes. California’s codes are evolving to the point where houses will eventually have to generate as much energy as they consume.

“It’s a complicated concept. A great way to get training is working for a contractor, but with California codes changing, if you have an opportunity to take a class you’ll be up to date in a more formal way,” said Jennifer Riddell, the program’s coordinator.

Along with building codes, courses in the program teach students how to read working documents--like blueprints--and understand and interpret them.

The college’s five-year old sustainable program is still developing curriculum and looking for instructors, Riddell said, adding the partnership with GRID “seemed like a natural.”

GRID was founded during the 2001 California energy crisis, and has installed 7,500 systems, with 26,364 kilowatts of power. They estimate that $200 million in lifetime electricity costs are saved, diverting more than 560,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

It has also provided solar training to about 28,000 people. Mendocino County is one of the latest territories that GRID has expanded into.

It has 10 regional offices and affiliates serving all of California, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. It also has staff in Nicaragua. California’s systems are largely funded by the California Single-family Affordable Solar Housing Program, which makes the installations low-to-no-cost for homeowners.

Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at Cynthia.Sweeney@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4259.