Lauren R. Stevens: Nothing to lose in using solar power

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Solar power keeps getting cheaper. Residents of North Adams and Williamstown have an opportunity to install solar and or batteries at a deeply discounted rate through Solarize Mass Plus. The deepest discount expires at the end of the year, so that residents, small businesses, institutions and non-profits should act within the coming weeks.

The battery program is only the second offered in the state. Information and names of installers are available for solar hot water, as well.

The newly formed Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the state's Department of Energy Resources have combined with the city and the town to choose Solarflair, a company out of Ashland, as installer for the program. Residents can also benefit from cost reductions outside the program, with other installers. Williamstown had a round of Solarize in 2013 that installed solar panels on 80 homes.

Federal solar tax credits of 30 percent are reduced to 26 percent at the end of this year — and down to 22 percent in 2021, after which they expire. Adding in state incentives, a $20,000 installation would end up costing the homeowner $13,000, paying for itself in reduced electricity costs in 5.5 years, according to Solarflair's Garrett Colvin. The package includes savings attributed to Solarflair's bulk purchasing, due to serving a number of customers in this area.

Furthermore, low interest loans are available. Additional help is available for moderate and lower income families. Although the cost per home remains the same regardless of how many sign up, Solarflair will provide solar for a non-profit in return for 50 customers.

The key ingredient is net metering, by which the utility, in this case National Grid, pays the small electricity producer for excess power returned to the grid, at a slightly lower than its retail price. The homeowner remains attached to the grid. On a sunny summer day she comes out a head. Solarflair does not do off-grid systems.

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The ideal arrangement is a south facing, un-shaded roof clear of intruding structures, but less than ideal can still work. Ideally the site would have six hours or more of sun. The company can make a rough analysis of the situation from Google Earth and a more specific analysis on site.

A roof should have at least 15 years left in it. Otherwise it would make more sense to redo the roof before installing solar panels. Slate roofs, common in this area, are possible hosts, although slightly more expensive.

Battery installation might appeal to residents who already have panels, to provide power when the sun isn't out, to serve as a back-up generator for power outages and to take advantage of a contract with the utility to make power available to the grid during peak power periods. Systems might be sized to recharge an electric car as well as power the home.

The system with whatever arrangements have been made passes on to the purchaser in the event of a home sale. Whereas initially buyers seemed skeptical of homes with solar devices, more recently they have tended to add to the sale price. Locally solar installations do not increase the property's value for tax purposes, however.

Williamstown's COOL (CO2 Lowering) Committee, solar coaches for both communities and Solarflair can provide information and advice. Coaches can be reached at solarizenorthadams@gmail.com or solarizeplus@williamstownma,gov. Other information: www.facebook.com/SolarizeMassNB or www.solatflair.com. The company can be alsoreached at 413-732-1948 (it is looking for local office space)     

Saving money while combating climate change — what's to lose? At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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