Four Berkshire-area hilltowns are the current hot spot for solar energy in Western Massachusetts.
With a May 15 deadline looming, 65 of 126 eligible property owners in Windsor, Worthington, Goshen and Cummington have enrolled in the state-sponsored Solarize Mass program.
The vigorous response — more than 50 percent — to offers from the Massachusetts-based SunBug is unheard of, according to the installer the consortium hired in October.
"The very high percentage shows people feel better about solar and want to be less reliable on the utility," said Aaron Simms, general manager of SunBug's Westfield office.The 65 contracts — and counting— accounts for nearly 558 kilowatts of solar generated electricity, putting the collaborative project at Tier 6.
Tier 6 is the highest level to achieve the lowest possible group cost.
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.
Frances Henry and her husband, Walter Korzec, of Cummington, signed up in November to own a solar array that was installed on their roof in late March. As the retired couple awaits permission to hook up to the power grid, they praised the local and state Solarize Mass officials for thoroughly explaining the program and financing options.
"It was well organized ... and it was the right time for us to consider [solar]," Henry said.
The couple expects a 100 percent savings on the electric bill from Eversource and they look forward to reducing their dependence on fossil fuel generated electricity.
Errly Richter of Windsor says he was drawn to the program by the promise of, on average, a zero monthly electric bill.
"I looked at solar panels like putting in insulation — it's going to make my house more energy efficient," said Richter, whose solar array on his garage went online two weeks ago.
In addition to federal and state solar tax credits, the Mass Solar Loan Program offers three incentives to enlist in Solarize Mass.
-A 1.5 percent interest rate buy down is available to all solar system owners regardless of income.
-A resident with a less than perfect credit rating can seek a loan loss reserve incentive from a participating lender.
-Based on total household income, a homeowner can seek a loan reduction. Under new thresholds effective Feb. 14, a two-person household earning $59,284 or less would qualify for a 30 percent loan reduction. If a family of two earns $88,926 or less it's a 20 percent loan reduction.
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 six years ago, Lee, Lenox, Pittsfield, Adams, Williamstown, Great Barrington and Egremont are among the 58 municipalities that enrolled in the program, which has resulted in a total of 3,400 small-scale installations with the solar capacity of 20.6 megawatts.
Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at (413) 496-6233.