Growing up in the 1980s, Amy Cafazzo remembers her parents investigating what it would take to mount solar panels on their home’s roof to take a bite out of their energy bills. The expense was too great, so the plan fizzled out.
Fast forward to the present, and Amy and her husband, Mark, are a month and a half into generating most of their household electricity through 21 solar panels mounted on the garage attached to their Hopkinton home.
“I was gung-ho on solar even before the contractor came out to do an assessment,” said Amy, who was the first homeowner in Hopkinton to sign up this year for a state-organized program that encouraged solar-electric installations through group purchases. “It absolutely is a long-term investment, but if you are going to be in your house for eight to 10 years with no plans to go anywhere, it makes sense.”
The Cafazzos are among the 803 families and businesses across the state that took advantage of discounted pricing to have solar arrays installed through Solarize Massachusetts, an incentive program run through the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Department of Energy Resources.
The Solarize Hopkinton program signed up 56 homes and businesses to install solar arrays capable of generating a total of 368 kilowatts — well beyond the 250-kilowatt threshold needed to qualify for the deepest discounts.
“I would say this was a huge success,” said Andy Boyce, chairman of Hopkinton’s Sustainable Green Committee and volunteer solar coach. “In the end, the premium is the carbon coming out of the air we all breathe.”
Through a combination of bulk purchasing, state and federal tax breaks, and rebates, Solarize Massachusetts has added 5.1 megawatts of solar power to the state’s energy mix, or enough electricity to run 807 homes for a year, according to the Mass. Clean Energy Center’s director, Alicia Barton McDevitt.
The effort grew out of a pilot program involving four communities — Harvard, Hatfield, Scituate, and Winchester — last year. Barton McDevitt said the pilot proved two points: Homeowners are more likely to buy into solar power if the state reaches out to them directly, and economies of scale can bring the initial cost of installing solar photovoltaic arrays to an affordable level.
“What we saw were exactly those two things. We had great success in driving down the cost and encouraging the adoption of solar power,” Barton McDevitt said.
The program expanded this year to 17 cities and towns already designated by the Department of Energy Resources as Green Communities for meeting certain clean-energy benchmarks, including a commitment to reducing energy use by 20 percent.
“For the 17 communities that participated this year, every one of them doubled the amount of small-scale solar projects in their towns,” said Barton McDevitt.
The participants include Arlington, which led the field by signing up 157 residents and businesses to contracts expected to generate 718 kilowatts of electricity, and neighbors Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland, which formed a collaborative effort in which 137 new solar arrays are expected to generate 1.28 megawatts of power.
The other communities statewide in this year’s program are Acton, Boston, Lenox, Melrose, Mendon, Millbury, Montague, Newburyport, Palmer, Pittsfield, Sutton, and Shirley.
Many other communities have expressed interest in taking part in the next round of solar incentives, but state officials are not expected to decide whether to continue or to expand the Solarize Massachusetts program until early next year, Barton McDevitt said. One of the key incentives driving the program is the Commonwealth Solar II rebate program, which expires in June.
Solar-power use has grown significantly in Massachusetts over the last five years, with the total amount of electricity generated from the sun going from 4 megawatts to this year’s figure of 176 megawatts — enough to power 27,837 homes. Governor Deval Patrick has set a goal of having 250 megawatts of solar-generated power on tap by 2017.
Under the Solarize program, participants have the choice of buying or leasing systems, with the cost based on a five-tiered pricing system that gets less expensive as more people in a community sign up. Both options reduce the price of electricity significantly, Barton McDevitt said.
In Hopkinton, which attained the biggest discount, the average leased system reduces electricity costs from 15 cents per kilowatt-hour to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, Barton McDevitt said. Participants who bought their systems eventually will see a 35 percent drop in power costs, once rebates and other incentives are factored in, she said.Continued...