Spark Northwest partners with community land trust to launch free rooftop solar program in Portland

In a new partnership with Spark Northwest, Solar For All and All Points North Foundation, eligible Proud Ground homeowners can install solar at no cost, cutting utility bills to save hundreds of dollars each year.

In the past year, the partnership has provided over $90,000 in funding and worked with ten families across the Portland tri-county area to install solar panels on their homes, a first step in expanding solar to additional affordable housing as the need for clean energy increases with climate change impacts.

Through Proud Ground’s community land trust model, 500 households of color and families with low incomes have purchased their first home, unlocking the ability to build wealth that homeownership enables.

Combining the dream of first-time homeownership with solar installations makes these homes even more affordable. Each solar system of about 3.5 kW saves the homeowner an average of $500 a year over the 25-year lifespan of the system.

Salome Waithaka is the most recent Proud Ground homeowner to add solar to her roof — cutting energy costs and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Photo: Vaqas Malik

“Land trusts serve as a unique way to make solar energy affordable and accessible for low-to-moderate income homeowners,” said Laura Staich, executive director of All Points North Foundation. “We are proud to partner on this effort and envision this model as one that can be replicated, furthering the benefits of solar in communities nationwide.”

The benefits ripple beyond financial gains and climate impacts. One southeast Portland family who participated in the program has used the savings to start a vegetable garden, an aspiration that was not feasible while renting homes with limited yard space. The vegetable garden is more than just fresh food — it has served as a connection to new neighbors, and to participate in the community by contributing produce to the Oregon Food Bank.

“Homeownership isn’t just about paying a mortgage — it creates stability and security for families to spend more time with their loved ones, to become part of their communities, and with solar panels, the cost savings helps to invest in their future,” said Melissa Ulrich, development director at Proud Ground.

The ability to build wealth while benefitting the environment is especially impactful for younger generations. Proud Ground homeowner Salome Waithaka looks forward to a future where her children can benefit from the financial savings as well as greater independence from fossil fuels.

“The addition of solar is one more step to making this an affordable home to own and operate. And there’s the added benefit that beyond offsetting heating costs, solar powers a clean future for the next generation,” said Waithaka.

Encouraged by the successful partnership, Proud Ground and Spark Northwest plan to bring this pilot program model to community land trusts across the country — one piece of the puzzle in ensuring a just transition to clean energy and making the American Dream of homeownership a reality for more families.

News item from Spark Northwest

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