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Solar panels installed at Jefferson Community Center in Eureka

EUREKA- A new initiative at the Jefferson Community Center in Eureka is teaching people how to utilize renewable energy.

Officials at the Jefferson Community Center created a sustainability initiative last year.  The initiative is focused on teaching kids the importance of sustainable living.  Part of that project was done this week, as 24 solar panels, 250 watts each, were installed on the roof.

"This project has a 6,000 watt solar system that will produce around 7,200 kilowatt hours a year.  And at the rate, at the moment, that will save them $1,600 a year, until rates go up, and it will save them some more money," said Roger, the electric contractor in charge of solar installation for the project.

The non-profit organization, the Gould Family Sisters Project, were the largest contributors for the sustainability initiative.  One of its members, Michelle “Mikki” Cardoza, says reducing the center’s electrical costs was worth the $6,500 donation.

"If it makes it less expensive for them to run the community center, so they can afford the lights to be on so people can come and meet here, then absolutely it makes a difference," said Cardoza.

The sustainability project is about more than energy cost savings, it's also about teaching renewable energy skills to the community.  For the last three days, members of the Tribal Civilian Community Corps and Cal Works have been learned how to properly install solar panels.

"We know that they're learning something new.  They're learning about environmental stewardship.  They're building a network of people in the community that have this skill and they're gaining some of these skills on their own," said Heidi Benzonelli, the President of the Westside Community Improvement Association.

"I believe solar panels are going to continue to come more and more into peoples' lives and eventually more people will have them.  And why not have the knowledge to be able to help and do it yourself?" said Stefan Heffner, a member of the Tribal Civilian Community Corps.

Even though installation wrapped up on Wednesday, organizers say solar education will be ongoing at the center.

"The plan is to put together some educational signs that we'll post right next to the inverters, so when anybody comes into the community center, they'll be able to look at those signs and see what's on the roof, what we're producing and how the system came to be," Benzonelli said.

Officials at the center say their other goal is for volunteers to bring the lessons they’ve learned home with them.

"By working with the TCCC's, we're working with people who come from other, rural, isolated communities, where renewable energy is really important because you're a long way away from the PG & E grid.  So it's very likely, working with the TCCC's, that we're going to see new renewable energy projects in rural communities as a result of this project," said Benzonelli.

Volunteers say the process itself has been a learning experience.

"It's important to us because we're in this program to learn things to better our future and give us more opportunities once we finish the program, in getting jobs and better our life.  Learning new things every day just helps your brain and who you become," Heffner said.