Garth Story is hosting an open house to show off his solar power system at his Lee residence to help promote Solarize Mass.
Garth Story is hosting an open house to show off his solar power system at his Lee residence to help promote Solarize Mass. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

LEE -- Garth and Karen Story had long contemplated relying on the sun -- not a utility -- to meet the electricity needs at their Highfield Drive residence.

Last year, the Lee couple finally made the switch and installed 30 solar panels on their two-story colonial -- a decision fueled by their son's insistence.

"He said we would be crazy if we didn't put solar panels on our roof," said Garth Story.

The Storys purchased the solar array at $34,000, but with federal and state rebates and tax credits, the net cost was cut in half, according to Garth Story. Nevertheless, he says the investment has paid immediate dividends: Their annual electric bill of $1,350 dropped to $27.

Story believes reliance on solar, a renewable energy source, makes sense in the long run.

"There's the green element of getting off the grid, and secondarily, it makes financial sense," he said.

Story plans to convey that message tonight during an open house to showcase his residential solar project to townspeople considering whether a state-sponsored solar energy program can help them cut their electricity costs. Local officials from Solarize Mass, an outfit that links homeowners to solar panels, are sponsoring the event scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m.

A similar open house in Williamstown is planned for Monday, from 5 to 7 p.m., at the home of Tom Welch and Joelle Brookner who installed a solar array 10 months ago.

The homeowners initiated the two solar projects, prior to their towns' participation in Solarize Mass.

Lee and Williamstown are among the 10 Massachusetts communities participating in the latest round of Solarize Mass through the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, along with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. MassCEC, which coordinates the program, plans another round to accommodate eight to 10 more for the fall.

Home and small-business owners in communities currently taking part in Solarize Mass have until Sept. 30 to sign a contract with the designated installer. In separate bidding processes, the two towns chose Real Goods Solar.

Under the 2-year-old program, homeowners can buy a photovoltaic system outright from a state-approved installer, lease the solar panels, or have the company own and maintain the panels, with the electricity generated being sold to the homeowner at a rate lower than a utility's charge.

At the request of home and business owners, the companies do a site assessment -- free of charge -- to determine the solar compatibility of the properties and, if so, offer several financing options to pay for the solar projects.

Welch says by having the installer, which happened to be Real Goods Solar, owning the solar array, he and his wife expect to pay a flat fee of $80 per month over a 20-year period for solar-generated electricity. The Williamstown couple have had, on average, a monthly $100 electric bill through a utility.

"At the rate electricity costs are going up, we expect to save several thousand dollars over 20 years by going solar," Welch said.

Since Solarize Mass debuted two years ago, Pittsfield, Lenox and the 19 other municipalities that participated in the program have doubled their solar energy output, according MassCEC officials.

A pilot program in 2011, Solarize Mass was expanded last year, leading to 803 private-property owners in 17 Massachusetts cities and towns -- including 58 homes and businesses in Pittsfield and Lenox combined -- to sign contracts with installers by early November.

Once all the solar arrays have been mounted on roofs or on the ground, they will generate 5,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity statewide. About 9 percent of that will be derived from solar arrays in Pittsfield and Lenox, according to MassCEC.

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