LENOX -- For Rich Hayes and Jane Salata, relying on solar energy to produce cheaper electricity for home use was a no-brainer.

The husband and wife say they are always looking for ways to reduce the cost of lighting and heating their 63-year-old, two-story house. So the couple didn't hesitate to explore the potential and eventually agree to the installation of solar panels on the roof of their Garrison Colonial through the Solarize Mass program.

"We're pretty frugal and we wanted to do the right thing for the planet," Salata said.

The Salata-Hayes home is among the nearly 30 residences in Lenox and Pittsfield to have their solar arrays operational under the state-sponsored program. The other 29 should be installed by this spring, according to Astrum Solar Inc., the private installer chosen by state energy officials to serve Pittsfield and Lenox during the 2012 edition of Solarize Mass.

Entering its third year, the program is designed to promote solar energy for homes and small businesses in pre-selected communities in an effort to save property owners money on their electric bills.

Since the solar array went online, Salata and Hayes have seen a slight decrease in their electricity costs.

The couple expect a full return on their investment in five years because they are leasing the solar project from Astrum.

"Solarize Mass made solar energy accessible to us and was much more affordable than we thought," Salata said.

As part of Solarize Mass, home and business owners also receive a free energy audit to determine other ways they can reduce energy costs and use. The auditor's findings were a bit of an eye-opener for Salata and Hayes.

"They actually discovered a problem with our gas stove that could have been a serious problem," Salata said.

State officials are now accepting applications from new Massachusetts cities and towns no later than Feb. 20 to participate in Solarize Mass this spring and summer.

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