Last week’s column on the townwide solar-installation incentive program operated by the state Department of Energy Resources and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, brought a response from Steve Nelson of the town of Washington. He complained that the "Solarize Massachusetts" program, under which installers bid for the sole right to work in a particular town or towns, and then pass on bulk savings to customers, was unfair to local businesses.
"The winning bidders," Nelson wrote, "have too often been out-of-state companies, who then have a significant competitive edge over local companies, who find themselves in effect competing against the state [which facilitates the program]."
"For example," he said, "Pittsfield and Lenox were paired together in the 2012 Solarize round. The winning bidder was a company called Astrum Solar from Maryland. Not only did that mean Astrum had a lock on the solar business in Pittsfield and Lenox, but the various and substantial state and federal incentives to go solar all flowed to Astrum and went out of state.
"While the Solarize program may be well-intentioned," he said, "it is an unwarranted intrusion into the solar marketplace that too often works to the disadvantage of Massachusetts solar companies and to the benefit of out-of-state suppliers."
I passed his comments on to Catherine Williams at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, who I interviewed for last week’s
She replied: "Every installer that participated last year is either based in Massachusetts or has a brick-and-mortar presence in Massachusetts.
"Three of eight are headquartered elsewhere. Astrum Solar, based in Maryland, has an established presence in Massachusetts, with an office in Hopkinton.
"Communities can only select an installer that bids on their community. Not every installer bid on every community.
"Also," she said, "residents can use other installers in their communities other than the ones participating in Solarize Mass. This program doesn’t prevent customers from choosing other installers for their projects."
Look for more about the program in The Eagle news pages soon.