Hilltown communities signing up for solar

  • Solar panels on house roof.

For the Gazette
Published: 1/26/2017 10:10:13 PM

More than 250 residents in Cummington, Goshen, Windsor and Worthington have signed up for free site assessments to determine if their homes or properties are suitable for solar installations.

“People are very interested in this,” Cummington solar coach Bill Adams said. “I have been getting captured on the street by people who want to hear more about having an assessment done.”

The four towns are participating as a group in the Solarize Mass program, a partnership between the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Green Communities Division of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

The program allows home and business owners to purchase or lease solar systems at reduced cost through a group-purchasing model. The more owners who sign on for a solar installation, the more the cost goes down.

After reviewing several Solarize Mass-approved installation companies, the four-town consortium hired SunBug Solar, an Arlington company with offices in Westfield. The company began taking requests for site assessments in November.

“SunBug is a solid vetted company and they really hit the ground running,” Adams said.

At present, there are 258 requests for site assessments, 55 completed assessments, and 10 solar contracts signed. Residents have until April 30 to purchase a solar system through the program.

“The program really makes solar financially accessible,” Worthington solar coach Kevin O’Connor said.

There are six group-pricing levels. The consortium qualifies for one of those levels — it is currently at Level 3 — based on how many people sign solar contracts. The higher the level, the lower the cost to residents.

“In Worthington, we are over 10 percent in terms of residents that have signed up for assessments,” O’Connor said. “I think once the weather improves and more information gets out, those numbers will go up and we will get to tier six.”

Many residents say they want solar, but are still mulling the best configuration for their property before they sign a contract, organizers said.

“My wife and I definitely want to do this. I hope that my garage will take solar panels. Either that or we’ll do a ground mount,” Goshen solar coach Dave Christopolis said.

Cummington solar coach James Wettereau said his home would not be suitable for solar panels, so he is cutting some trees on his property and building a small barn with a roof pitched toward the sun.

According to Brenda Aribib, solar coach from Cummington, about half the people they have spoken with are interested in solar ground mounts.

“If homes, garages or barns aren’t suitable, and you have the land, putting it in a field is a great alternative,” she said.

Residents may also consider adding to already existing solar systems.

The Adams home, for example, is already equipped with 40 solar panels, which produce enough energy to power his home and farm for all but three months in the winter. He is now adding additional panels under the Solarize Mass program to close the gap, reduce his carbon footprint and eliminate his electric bills.

The rise in solar

Elsewhere in the Hilltowns, a three-town consortium of Plainfield, Ashfield and Buckland has signed contracts for 116 solar electric systems since adopting Solarize Mass last spring. The three towns more than doubled the number of solar electric systems in their communities during the program.

And Shelburne, Colrain and Conway are among the most recent towns to join Solarize Mass, according to the state.

The Clean Energy Center says that since Solarize Mass was launched in 2011, 51 cities and towns have participated in the program, which has led to the contracting of more than 2,600 new small-scale installations at homes and businesses resulting in 18 megawatts of contracted solar capacity.

To date, systems installed under Solarize Mass have reduced greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 1,500 cars off the road annually.

The center says Massachusetts currently has 985 megawatts of solar capacity installed statewide, more than halfway to the commonwealth’s goal of 1,600 megawatts installed by 2020 and enough to power more than 150,000 homes.

Informational meetings

Informational meetings with representatives of SunBug and solar coaches have been taking place in each of the four towns to address the various solar options, pricing and answer any questions from residents.

“The community has been very receptive. We had close to 60 people come to our first ‘meet the installer’ meeting,” Aribib said.

The four towns will hold separate informational meetings where a free lunch or dinner will be served depending on the time of the event. They are as follows:

Cummington: This Sunday, 1 to 3 p.m., at the Cummington Community House.

Worthington: Tuesday Feb. 7, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Town Hall.

Windsor: Thursday, Feb. 9, and Sunday, Feb. 12, from noon to 2 p.m., at the Town Hall.

Goshen: Saturday, Feb. 11, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the Town Hall.

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