Great Barrington, Egremont and Adams are the latest Berkshire County towns to enroll in a state-sponsored solar energy program designed to reduce homeowners' electric bills.

The three local communities are among 15 Massachusetts cities and towns participating in the second round of Solarize Mass for 2013, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

MassCEC, which oversees the program along with the state Department of Energy Resources, has announced Great Barrington will partner with Egremont, one of four partnerships approved by the state agencies. Adams and five other municipalities are solo participants in a program.

Since Solarize Mass debuted nearly three years ago, 1,250 home and business owners in 31 communities have installed solar arrays; 170 total in Williamstown, Lee, Pittsfield and Lenox.

Local solar officials anticipate high interest once the program is formally introduced to residents of Great Barrington, Egremont and Adams in the coming weeks.

"We had over 300 positive responses to a survey as part of the application process. People are interested," said Juliette Haas, Egremont's solar coordinator.

The program's success elsewhere has also piqued interest in solar energy, according to Great Barrington's solar coordinator, Malcolm Fick.

"People are aware of what Lee and others have done," he said. "The Berkshires is batting a thousand on this and we plan to use it to our advantage."

In January, MassCEC and local solar officials plan to hold meetings to educate residents and small-business owners on how to invest, through Solarize Mass, in solar photovoltaic panels to generate electricity for their own use. The gatherings will include how property owners sign up for a solar assessment -- free of charge -- to determine if their home or business is a viable site for a solar array.

"This will not only help Adams with the trend of becoming more green, but will also allow many residents a very real opportunity to benefit from residential utility savings," said Adams Town Administrator Jonathan Butler.

Soon each community and municipal partnership will independently choose an installer through a bidding process for a state-qualified private solar energy company to install solar arrays in their city or town.

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.

Solarize Mass enrollees pay the minimum start-up costs if their community reaches Tier 5, or contracts totaling at least 200 kilowatts. Williamstown reached 559 kilowatts and Lee 294 kilowatts during this year's first round that wrapped up Oct. 31.

Overall, Solarize Mass has produced 9,400 kilowatts, or 9.4 megawatts, since it began in 2011. The program is part of state's plan to generate 250 megawatts of solar electricity capacity by 2017, according to state energy officials.

"Programs like Solarize Mass allow people across Massachusetts to join the clean energy revolution right in their own homes and businesses, while creating local jobs in the Commonwealth," said Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan, in a written statement.

New England Newspapers reporter Adams Shanks contributed to this report.

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