Amherst, Williamsburg, Chesterfield and Whately among latest communities selected for Solarize Mass

Last modified: Friday, December 06, 2013
AMHERST — Four area towns are among the latest to ride the “solarize” wave after state officials announced Monday that 15 communities were selected for the next round of a program that encourages the adoption of small-scale solar photovoltaic systems.

Amherst, Williamsburg, Chesterfield and Whately are the latest communities to join the three-year-old program that to date has helped some 1,250 homeowners and small businesses in 31 communities install about 9.4 megawatts of solar electricity. The latter three towns have formed a joint partnership.

“It’s clearly an exciting time in solar energy in Massachusetts,” Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan said during a press conference held at Atkins Farms Country Market, which solarized two years ago.

Other communities selected in this year’s second round are Adams, Andover, Great Barrington, Egremont, Watertown, Lexington, Bedford, Salem, Swampscott, Wellfleet and Needham.

After being selected, communities led by a team of volunteers choose an installer and provide specific prices for the installation of solar panels. The program can lower the cost of installing solar systems and save customers money on their electricity bills, depending on how many residents and businesses contract for solar energy. Pricing through the program is tiered based on how many people sign up, so that installation costs decrease as contracted kilowatt hours increase.

Sullivan was joined Monday by Alicia Barton, chief executive officer of the Clean Energy Center, and Mark Sylvia, commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources. “Local leadership is the key to this program at the end of the day,” Sylvia said.

Amherst officials, including Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe, said they are looking forward to getting the program off the ground.

“Amherst is a community that truly lives by its values,” O’Keeffe told the small crowd that gathered at Atkins for the event. “This is a place that wants to be a leader in sustainability practices across the board.”

Harold Gould, co-owner of Atkins, said he hopes the kind of solar project his business undertook two years ago catches on.

“We hope it spreads to the rest of the town, the rest of the county and the rest of the state,” he said.

Solarize Mass is a partnership among the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state Department of Energy Resources Green Communities Division, local officials and community volunteers. Each year, the state selects communities to participate in the program.

Northampton was one of 10 communities to participate in the recently completed round of the program. Over the last five months, 110 homeowners in the city have contracted to install a near state record 715 kilowatts of solar energy.

Other western Massachusetts communities that have participated in the program since 2010 are Hatfield, Montague, Williamstown, Palmer and Lenox-Pittsfield.

State environmental officials said Massachusetts now has 361 megawatts of power generated by solar installations.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.