Windsor, neighboring towns latest to take part in Solarize Mass program

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Homeowners in four Berkshire-area hill towns look to brighten their future by enrolling in a state-sponsored solar energy program to help them save on their electric bills.

The four community consortium of Windsor, Cummington, Worthington and Goshen are among the 12 Massachusetts cities and towns participating in Solarize Mass for 2016.

Since the program began five years ago, Lee, Lenox, Pittsfield, Adams, Williamstown, Great Barrington and Egremont are among the 51 municipalities that enrolled in Solarize Mass. The program has resulted in a total of 2,600 small-scale installations with the solar capacity of 18 megawatts.

Led by "solar coaches," each of the four towns will begin reaching out to property owners interested in mounting solar panels on their roofs or ground, generating electricity that will make them less dependent on their electric company.

"Worthington likes to think of itself as independent ... and not beholden to the utilities," said the town's solar coach, Kevin O'Connor.

Initially, some 160 home and business owners in the four towns have inquired about Solarize Mass; the majority — nearly 100 — in Windsor, according to its solar coach, Patti Hackett-Hunter.

There is a high level of interest because the groundwork was laid last December when we were designated a Green Community [by the state,]" she said.

Under Solarize Mass, homeowners have the option of purchasing the photovoltaic system outright from a state-approved installer, leasing the solar panels, or having the company own and maintain the panels, with the electricity generated being sold to the homeowner at a rate lower than the utility.

A partnership of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) and state Department of Energy Resources, officials of the two agencies hold public forums in the selected cities and towns to explain how the program works.

Next, the state awards contracts to private solar energy firms, which bid on the communities where the solar arrays would be installed.

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

"Once this gets off the ground and we start information forums ... I am expecting upward of a couple hundred requests for assessments," said Cummington's solar coach, Bill Adams.

Adams noted the four towns are shooting for a total of 150 property owners signing contracts with the chosen installer in an effort to reach Tier 5, the highest level in which to provide the solar arrays at the cheapest price.

Through the state, the four towns hope to hire an installer by the end of October, with the company then doing assessments that could lead to securing contracts with the individual home or business owner no later than April 1, 2017.

Berkshire state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing applauded Windsor, Cummington, Worthington and Goshen for joining the green energy trend the past few years in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties.

"Western Mass continues to lead the way on clean energy," Downing said in a prepared statement. "It's great to see the Solarize program recognize this innovative four-town partnership. Solar is working in Massachusetts and these communities are the proof."

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.

For information ...

Four Berkshire-area hilltowns are participating in Solarize Mass, a state program that works to bring small-scale solar arrays to homes and businesses. For more information:

Windsor: (413) 684-3732; SolarizeWindsor@gmail.com

Cummington: (413) 634-5342; SolarizeCummington@gmail.com

Goshen: (413) 268-7093; SolarizeGoshen@gmail.com

Worthington: (413) 238-0841; SolarizeWorthington@gmail.com


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