by Orson Aguilar and Tate Hill
Denny Sysaknoi had never met Leticia and Gerardo Ramirez until last November. Today, they not only know each other, they stand as real-world examples of how California’s climate change laws are changing lives for the better here in the Valley.
The Ramirez family lives in Madera, in a home they literally helped build themselves under the auspices of Self-Help Enterprises. With four kids and not much money for extras, the Ramirezes – like many working families – never imagined they could have solar power for their home.
But they have it now, thanks to a state program that helps low-income families afford clean, efficient rooftop solar systems. That program is about to grow, thanks to California’s global warming law, AB 32, and follow-up legislation called SB 535.
Under AB 32, polluters have to pay for the filth they put into our air – carbon that damages our climate and the soot and toxic chemicals that come with it. That money then goes to fund projects that further cut pollution – for example, by promoting energy efficiency and clean power – and SB 535 mandates that one quarter of those funds must go to projects in highly polluted, economically struggling communities. Sadly, parts of Visalia, Fresno, Madera and many other Valley communities meet that definition.
That’s where 21-year-old Denny Sysaknoi comes in. He helped lead the crew that installed the Ramirez family’s solar system, but his life nearly took a very different turn.
Denny “grew up with no parents,” he says, in a corner of Fresno “that was violent, and there were always shootings around.” His brother, a gang member, has been in prison in Oklahoma since age 15. Denny had his own brush with the law at 16, when he was arrested for possessing an unregistered gun. He got kicked out of school. He knows that his life could have gone downhill from there.
But it didn’t. He enrolled in a vocational training program through Fresno’s Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC). EOC sent him to nonprofit GRID Alternatives, where he did a six-month internship that eventually led him to a position as a crew leader with Lifestyle Solar, a Central Valley solar installer.
GRID Alternatives manages California’s Single Family Affordable Solar Homes program (SASH), installing solar for low-income families who would not otherwise have access. At the same time, the organization provides hands-on solar training for people like Denny, giving them the experience they need to land jobs in the growing clean energy economy.
Our pioneering climate change and clean energy law will pump $75 million into programs like SASH this coming year, making solar affordable for working families and creating jobs for people like Denny.
Thanks to California’s smart, sensible laws, the Ramirez family will save as much as $25,000 on power over their lifetimes. And Denny Sysaknoi, who could easily have slipped into a life of gangs and prison cells, now has a job, a family and a future.
We’re hearing a lot from the oil industry and its front groups that are fighting California’s clean energy laws tooth and nail. They want to frighten you, and they don’t want you to think about the real families and real neighborhoods these laws are already helping.