NorthEast Solar Design in Hatfield keeps its focus local
NorthEast Solar crew members Rusty Ingold Smith, left and Jay Perlberg, right attach solar panels to an AllSun Solar Tracker earlier this month.
Fran Ryan.j Purchase photo reprints »
Newly installed solar panels on a Center Street home in Montague. NorthEast Solar Design completed this installation as part of the Solarize Montague program.
Sally Pick Purchase photo reprints »
The large AllSun Solar Tracker being installed at the home of Montague resident Chuck Malloch. When completed, Malloch says he expects it will serve all of his current electrical needs.
Fran Ryan Purchase photo reprints »
HATFIELD — With green energy production being actively promoted by the state, one local business is doing its part to spread the solar gospel.
The Hatfield-based NorthEast Solar Design, which provides solar installations for commercial and residential customers around the Pioneer Valley, is in the midst of a year-long project installing 42 solar arrays for homes in Montague.
Sally Pick, community solar coach and member of the Montague Energy Committee, said organizers of the Solarize Montague effort chose NorthEast Solar from a pool of nine solar installers to do the work in her town.
“We were interested in their company because they had a good reputation, a good amount of experience and they were local. All of the other companies were from eastern Mass,” she said.
Solarize Montague is part of a state-funded effort to reach a goal of 250 megawatts of solar installed by 2017. In that campaign, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Department of Energy Resources are working with cities and towns across Massachusetts to bring competitively priced solar energy to homes and businesses.
The program offers a five-tiered pricing structure that provides increased savings as more people in the community elect solar. So far, 17 communities, including Montague, Lenox, Palmer, and Pittsfield, elected to participate in the program, which ended its sign up period in late October.
Catherine Williams of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center said 802 residents and businesses signed contracts to install solar systems as part of Solarize Massachusetts program, before the Nov. 4 deadline to participate. She maintains that 17 communities taking part is a great turnout given that this was the first time the program had been officially rolled out. The program was made available to the state’s 103 designated Green Communities.
“The responses that we got back from the communities was phenomenal,” said Williams. “This was a great success and I think that is because it was such a grassroots effort.”
Williams said the center has already received requests from a variety of cities and towns to offer the program again.
“We are currently in the process of doing a 360-degree assessment of the program by talking with the communities, consumers and the installers,” Williams said. “That will give us a better idea of how we want to go forward.”
Williams noted the current average price for electricity in Massachusetts is 15 cents per kWh using fossil fuels. Depending on which tier a community reaches, that can be reduced to about 4 or 5 cents per kWh, Williams said.
“So the argument that renewable energy is just too expensive doesn’t really hold water any more,” she said.
Founded in 2002, as Village Power, the company became NorthEast Solar Design in 2009. The company also has recently completed commercial installations at the Szawlowski farm at 103 Main St. in Hatfield, as well as the South River Miso Company in Conway and BETE Fog Nozzle in Greenfield.
“We are a local company and most of our employees are trained in the area and live in the area,” said General Manager and Chief Financial Officer Gregg Garrison. “We think that it is important to keep money in the local economy, and our primary focus is western Mass.”
Owned by Garrison, Managing Director Don Muccino and Vice President & Treasurer Ann Bronner, NorthEast Solar employs 12 people, many of whom were educated in the same local green energy program.
“Seventy percent of our ownership have graduated from the Renewable Energy Program at Greenfield Community College,” Garrison said. “We work with GCC on a regular basis offering student internships.”
Garrison, a resident of Montague who also serves on the town’s Finance Committee and Capital Improvement Committee, said that the pairing of NorthEast Solar and Solarize Montague was a good fit.
“Montague is a community that really understands solar energy and conservation,” Garrison said. “We are doing 42 separate installations in town. Four have already been completed.”
Solarize Montague is the most concentrated residential project the company has taken on to date. The project should be finished by Sept. 30, 2013. Garrison said the typical system installed on the roof of an average-size home costs about $22,000 before rebates and other cost-saving programs.
These include a 30 percent federal tax credit, a $1,000 state tax credit and a rebate of roughly $2,000 from MassCEC.
“The average installation is 20 panels which produces 4.9 kW, that is basically enough to satisfy an electric bill that is about $100 a month,” he said.
Some more intricate installations, however, like a “tracker system” can run closer to $34,000.
A tracker is a pole mounted, rotating design that uses a motor and GPS to “track” the path of the sun, increasing the amount of energy collected.
“Right now we are installing a tracker system at a home on Court Street in Montague,” Garrison said.
The Court Street installation is an “AllSun Tracker” that comes from AllEarth Renewables, a Williston, Vt., company that develops wind and solar energy systems. The installation is four panels across and six panels down mounted on a pole that is roughly 12 feet high.
Chuck Malloch, an electrical engineer himself, praised the NorthEast Solar crew that took 2½ days to install the system at his Court Street home.
“They were very good,” Malloch said. “Things have gone very smoothly and it seems like these guys absolutely know what they are doing,” he said.
Garrison says that some solar installers “overbuild” their installations to accommodate the customers’ future electrical needs. NorthEast Solar, however, takes a different approach.
“We try not to build greater than 80 percent of current electrical use,” Garrison said. “We think that this helps people to look at their own energy consumption habits,” he said.
As people begin to see their monthly electric bill decrease, Garrison said they become inspired to reduce it further.
“The process helps them to see and understand how energy-saving strategies can really impact their financial bottom line,” he said. “That works for the company, the homeowner and the environment. Its like, we give you solar energy, you give us sustainability,” he said.
According to Pick, in the last couple of years, Massachusetts has offered the most energy efficiency and clean energy programs in the country.
“We are definitely ahead of the curve,” Pick said. For that Garrison is appreciative.
“There is plenty of work to do here in the Pioneer Valley,” Garrison said. “This is a great team to work with, and we are doing really well,” he said.