Monday July 30, 2012

LENOX -- Jeff Caligari is constantly looking for ways to saves on his business’s electric bill. The president of Caligari’s Hardware has taken advantage of as many energy saving programs as possible, but with little financial impact.

"We use less and less electricity in order to save money, but the rates keep going up," he noted.

Caligari hopes Solarize Mass is the answer to his store’s rising utility costs.

Later this week, Caligari and other Lenox entrepreneurs will learn how they can avail themselves of the newly created state program primarily fo cused on homeowners.

Town and state officials have scheduled a special information meeting for Thursday at noon at Lenox Town Hall. Pittsfield officials are considering a similar gathering for city businesses.

Solarize Mass is designed to assist home and small business owners invest in solar photovoltaic panels to generate electricity for their own use.

Lenox and Pittsfield, are among 17 Massachusetts municipalities picked by a pair of state agencies -- the Department of Energy and Resources and Clean Energy Center -- to participate in the pilot program.

Since Solarize Mass was introduced locally in early June, more than 200 homeowners between Lenox and Pittsfield have expressed interest in the pilot program. Lenox officials say it has also increasingly piqued the interest of local business owners, prompting an informational sessions just for them.


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"We are reaching people more than we thought we would," said Lenox Selectman Channing Gibson. "Solar power makes a lot of sense for businesses too."

Jeff Clifford, owner of Clifford Oil Co., is also seriously considering solar arrays to help power his business. Clifford wants to reduce his reliance on the 2,000 kilowatts of utility-produced electricity used each month at the fuel oil distribution facility in Lenox Dale.

"We are very fortunate to have a site that has so much sun to garner energy," Clifford said. "[Solarize Mass] makes sense financially and environmentally."

Apparently dozens of Lenox and Pittsfield homeowners agree.

Earlier this month, the state selected Astrum Solar to implement Solarize Mass in the two communities. The Maryland-based firm has already scheduled or completed 50 site assessments to determine if homeowners have properties conducive to producing solar energy.

The site visits have resulted in three Pittsfield homeowners and one in Lenox agreeing to install solar panels, with additional sales pending in both communities, Astrum officials said.

The deadline to enroll in Solarize Mass is Sept. 30.

State and local officials have said the higher the number of participants in the program, the lower the installation cost per household.

Through education and community outreach, Solarize Mass encourages the installation of solar projects that produce five kilowatts or fewer of electricity.

The energy upgrades can be financed through a tiered pricing structure that provides increased savings as more people in the community go solar, according to local officials.

Under Solarize Mass, Astrum will install the solar panels in both Pittsfield and Lenox, with the home and small-business owners determining how they will pay for their renewable energy systems.

Homeowners have the option to purchase the photovoltaic system outright from the company, lease the solar panels or have the installer own and maintain the panels and the electricity generated to the homeowner at a rate lower than the utility.

If solar energy isn’t a viable option for home and business owners, state officials hope they will explore other public and private incentives to reduce energy costs.

"We want people to take advantage of as many energy efficiency programs as possible," said Andy Brydges with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. "Ultimately it goes a long way toward driving down energy costs."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.

If you go . . .

What: Meeting for Lenox
businesses interested in Solarize Mass

When: Thursday, noon.

Where: Lenox Town Hall

A similar meeting for Pittsfield businesses is expected at a later date.