PITTSFIELD -- Due to popular demand, Pittsfield and Lenox residents have another month to consider taking part in a state-sponsored solar energy program expected to help dozens of local homeowners eventually save money on their electric bills.
The deadline to enroll in Solarize Mass has been extended to Oct. 31, according to the two Massachusetts agencies overseeing the pilot program.
Officials with the Department of Energy Resources and Clean Energy Center cited the nearly 300 solar projects in the state -- 36 in Pittsfield and Lenox combined -- as one reason for the extension beyond Sunday. Sept. 30 was the original deadline for enrollment.
Furthermore, local municipal officials and the installer hired by the state to implement the program in Pittsfield and Lenox say interest has remained high since it debuted in mid-June.
"I'm still getting voicemails and emails almost every day asking about the program," said Nate Joyner, Pittsfield's coordinator for Solarize Mass.
"So many people have inquired about [Solarize Mass] in the last month, we need more time for them to go through the process," added Michelle Waldgeir, vice president of marketing for Astrum Solar.
"The interest level is higher than we expected," she said.
The Maryland-based firm is one of seven private solar energy companies installing solar arrays in the 17 cities and towns participating in Solarize Mass.
The program is designed to assist home and small-business owners to invest in solar photovoltaic panels to generate electricity for their own use.
Last week, Peter and Mary Rentz of Pittsfield were among the first local homeowners to have solar panels installed on their roof.
"We've been looking into solar energy for some time as our previous home had solar hot water," said Peter Rentz. "The fact the city endorsed a company that had experience made the project a safe bet."
Rentz expects cut his electric bill in half and receive a return on his investment in seven to eight years.
Astrum officials expect the majority of the solar arrays sold under Solarize Mass in Pittsfield and Lenox to be installed by year's end.
The local homeowners already enrolled -- and future enrollees -- in Solarize Mass can also plan on lower start-up costs. Waldgeir said the 36 local projects will generate a total of 257 kilowatts, surpassing the 250-kilowatt mark necessary to provide the lowest installation price possible.
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, with the electricity generated being sold to the homeowner at a rate lower than the utility.
Solarize Mass has also spurred a surge in demand for solar energy in communities surrounding Pittsfield and Lenox -- especially among business owners, according to Lenox officials.
"Other solar companies have come in to work in those towns, resulting in a huge amount of wattage in non-residences alone," said Adele Gravitz, Lenox's sustainable energy coordinator.
Gravitz noted Lenox home and business owners can apply for town grants of $2,000 each toward the startup cost of small solar energy projects.
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.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.
Solar power play
n The state has extended to Oct. 31 the enrollment deadline for Solarize Mass in Pittsfield, Lenox and the 15 other Massachusetts communities participating in the program.
n Interested home and small business owners should contact Astrum Solar at go.astrumsolar.com/pitts fieldlenox