Williamstown and Lee have seen a surge of residents taking part in Solarize Mass thanks to a deadline extension -- which ends Thursday -- to enroll in the state-sponsored solar energy program designed to reduce homeowners' electric bills.
For the second consecutive year, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center extended the original Sept. 30 enrollment cutoff date to Oct. 31, due to high demand for solar powered electricity.
MassCEC officials cite the 379 solar projects in the state -- 59 in Williamstown and 30 in Lee -- as one reason extending the deadline has paid off with a 30 to 40 percent spike in participation. Heading into October, state projects totaled 269; 41 in Williamstown and 23 in Lee.
"And we still expect to have more contracts signed by the deadline," said Wendy Penner, Williamstown's solar coordinator.
Local representatives of Solarize Mass say interest has remained high in the two Berkshire communities given the dozens of contracts that were initiated since Oct. 1 between residents and the towns' designated solar array installer, Real Goods Solar.
"This new deadline has given a lot of people more time to work out the details of a contract," said Roger Scheurer, Lee's coordinator for the solar energy program.
Colorado-based Real Goods Solar is one of five private solar energy companies installing solar arrays in 10 cities and towns participating in the latest round of Solarize Mass. MassCEC currently is reviewing applications for this year's second round from communities, including Great Barrington/Egremont and Adams, who haven't previously participated in the program. The state agency plans to announce in December the cities and towns chosen for the next round.
Solarize Mass is designed to assist home and small-business owners to invest in solar photovoltaic panels to generate electricity for their own use.
Homeowners have the option to purchase the photovoltaic system outright from the designated installer, lease the solar panels or have the solar energy company own and maintain the panels, with the electricity generated being sold to the homeowner at a rate lower than the utility.
In 2012, the first full year of Solarize Mass, Pittsfield and Lenox were the initial Berkshire communities to participate in the program. The 58 residences combined who installed solar arrays -- 39 in Pittsfield, 19 in Lenox -- ranked the two municipalities fourth and fifth respectively among the 17 that took part, according to local Solarize Mass coordinators.
Through Solarize Mass, Western Massachusetts has been the hotbed of solar energy in 2013. To date, Lee, Williamstown and Northampton have combined for 50 percent of the contracts signed and kilowatt hours to be produced, 187 and 1,256.6 kW respectively.
MassCEC CEO Alicia Barton has been impressed with local participation in the second full year of the program.
"We hope many more residents and business owners in the two Berkshire towns will step up to the plate and take advantage of the opportunity to go solar -- an economic and environmental home run," Barton said.
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