Monday November 12, 2012

UNDATED -- More than 800 private properties across Massachusetts -- including 58 homes in Pittsfield and Lenox combined -- saw the light and took part in a state-sponsored program to help property owners eventually save on their electric bills.

Under the recently concluded Solarize Mass initiative, the 802 individual solar arrays being mounted on roofs or on the ground will generate 5,100 kilowatt hours of electricity, about 9 percent of that in Pittsfield and Lenox, according the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. MassCEC was one of two state agencies that oversaw the six-month program.

Based on the numbers, state and local officials are hailing Solarize Mass as a success.

"It definitely exceeded our expectations as people understood the benefits," said MassCEC CEO Alicia Barton McDevittBarton McDevitt was also impressed with how well Pittsfield and Lenox stacked up against the 15 other communities who participated in the pilot program. The 465 kilowatts of electricity expected to be generated by the 58 solar projects, ranks the two municipalities fourth and fifth, respectively.

"It definitely exceeded our expectations as people understood the benefits," said MassCEC CEO Alicia Barton McDevittBarton McDevitt was also impressed with how well Pittsfield and Lenox stacked up against the 15 other communities who participated in the pilot program.


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The 465 kilowatts of electricity expected to be generated by the 58 solar projects, ranks the two municipalities fourth and fifth, respectively.

"We outperformed some of the larger communities in terms of installations and kilowatts," said Nate Joyner, Pittsfield’s Solarize Mass coordinator.

In addition, 200 of the 400 Pittsfield and Lenox homeowners who inquired about Solarize Mass signed up for a site visit to determine if their property was suited for solar panels.

"Locally, this program definitely bettered the state expectation that 30 percent of inquiries would result in site visits," noted Joyner.

The cost of investing in solar energy hooked many of the homeowners, according to Susan May, Lenox’s Solarize Mass coordinator.

"People were surprised the price was so affordable, particularly the leasing program," May said.

Under Solarize Mass, homeowners have the option of purchasing the photovoltaic system outright from a state-approved installer, leasing the solar panels, or having the company own and maintain the panels, with the electricity generated being sold to the homeowner at a rate lower than the utility.

Astrum Solar of Maryland, one of seven private solar energy firms selected by the state, aggressively sought and received the contract to install solar arrays in Pittsfield and Lenox.

"We, as a company, thought the whole Berkshire area was a hot bed for solar -- and we were right," said Michelle Waldgeir, vice president of marketing for Astrum. "We see [Solarize Mass] leading to a long-term relationship between Astrum Solar and the Berkshire area."

Waldgeir pointed out they did several installations in Berkshire communities surrounding Pittsfield and Lenox, due to the popularity and publicity about Solarize Mass.

State officials are looking to build upon the program’s success by helping cities and towns model their own solar energy program after Solarize Mass.

"There is a strong indication we need to figure out ways to deliver similar outreach on solar energy to other communities," Barton McDevitt said.

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

By the numbers ...

n 802 Massachusetts home and business owners who enrolled in
Solarize Mass.

n 58 Berkshire
residences combined -- 39 in Pittsfield,
19 in Lenox --
participated in the state-sponsored solar energy program.

n 5.1 megawatts of electricity to be
generated by Solarize Mass., .465 megawatts (465 kilowatts), locally.