CUMMINGTON — Rosemary Wessel knew for years that solar energy would eventually power her small house in Cummington, lowering her electric bills and helping save the planet.
Finally, 2017 may be that year.
Wessel is among a handful of homeowners within a Berkshire Hills area consortium who have already enrolled in the state-sponsored Solarize Mass program.
Property owners in Windsor, Worthington, Goshen and Cummington have until March 31 to get a free site assessment to determine if solar generated electricity is viable. If so, April 30 is the deadline to sign a contract with Massachusetts-based SunBug, the installer the consortium selected nearly two months ago.
The Wessels designed and built their 840-square-foot abode in 2002 with solar in mind, but, for them, it was cost prohibitive. They are currently buying wind, solar, hydropower-generated electricity through Mass Energy, with an eye now toward homemade green energy at a greater savings through Solarize Mass.
"The program gives people the chance to take advantage of group pricing," Wessel said. "The more people that sign on, the lower the price becomes per kilowatt hour."
Since late November, five property owners in the four towns have agreed to SunBug installing solar arrays totaling 40 kilowatts, putting the collaborative project at Tier 3. Under Solarize Mass, Tier 5 is the highest level to achieve the lowest possible group cost.
Given SunBug has completed 50 of 249 requested site assessments, local Solarize Mass. officials are confident are confident of maximizing project savings.
Even homeowners with solar see Solarize Mass as a boost to their energy independence. Bill Adams of Cummington has 40 solar panels producing about 12.6 megawatts annually for an all-electric home/farm, making him energy self-sufficient — except for the three winter months.
"I am adding 40 more panels under Solarize Mass to solve that problem and improve my return on investment and sustainability going forward," he said.
Led by Adams and three other "solar coaches," each of the four towns has been 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.
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.
Homeowners already with solar arrays within the four towns are part of the outreach, helping prospective solar energy users understand its impact on electricity costs.
Janet Bradley and Doug McNally have powered their home and barns with a 13.5-kilowatt ground-mounted system since 2014. The Windsor couple expect the larger-than-normal installation to pay for itself in five more years using tax credits, solar energy credits and their savings.
"At the end of our [energy credits], we will be ahead by over $10,000 and will have received $6,000 of free electricity — a total $16,000 profit," McNally said.
Windsor, Cummington, Worthington and Goshen are among the 12 Massachusetts municipalities participating in Solarize Mass for 2016-17 in partnership with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and state Department of Energy Resources.
Since the program began almost six 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.
Contact staff write Dick Lindsay at (413) 496-6233