Solar projects slated for Medford, Chelmsford

Medford and Chelmsford are among the latest communities chosen to take part in a state program offering lower electrical rates to homeowners and businesses that install rooftop solar panels.

Solarize Massachusetts grew out of Governor Deval Patrick’s plan to increase solar power-generating installations across the state.

The program, run by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the state’s Department of Energy Resources, provides a blueprint to communities with strong interest in expanding solar-energy output.

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The cities and towns work with the quasi-public Clean Energy Center, which provides educational workshops and helps participants choose a solar vendor that will either sell or lease the photovoltaic panels.

Typically, homeowners or businesses with large roofs that aren’t obstructed by tall trees or buildings, and have clear sun angles, meet the criteria for solar panels. Under the Solarize Mass. plan, solar-power systems can be installed for about $25,000. Under leases, the vendor owns the panels, and collects a yearly fee. Either way, if there’s enough sun, the panels can cut monthly electrical costs as much as 25 to 40 percent, according to Alicia Barton, the Clean Energy Center’s chief executive officer.

“It’s a way for a homeowner to create their own renewable energy right there in their home,” she said.

Barton said the roof-mounted solar panels usually generate 5 to 10 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power a home during daylight hours.

Besides providing renewable energy, the program also helps the bottom line. Solar users are eligible for federal and state tax credits, and state rebates. In addition, any surplus electricity generated by the solar array can be sold to the power grid. And as more people sign up for solar in a community, their electricity rate drops.

“This will cut down on your costs, save money, and at the same time reduce your carbon footprint. It’s a no-brainer,” said Medford Mayor Michael J. McGlynn.

Barton said people who purchase the solar panels usually recoup their investment within three to five years, while leasing provides a reduction in electrical costs right away. “You start saving money immediately,” she said.

McGlynn said adding solar is part of Medford’s climate protection plan, which already has led to solar panels providing electricity to City Hall and powering the lights at Hormel Stadium. In recent years, Medford added a wind turbine at a school, limited how long buses can be left idling, and encouraged residents to weatherize their properties. He said the community recently finished surveying its school roofs, and will consider proposals to add solar panels on the buildings.

Gael Motz, who is a member of Solarize Medford, the organization working with the state to add solar in the city, said she will hold informational meetings, hand out solar brochures at the local farmers market, and get the word out through the city’s Energy Committee website.

Motz said the program will select a vendor by the end of this month, with the goal of having new solar systems in operation by the summer. She said the sign-up effort would run through September.

“I think we have a number of families that are willing to make the commitment,” Motz said. “It’s about taking advantage of what we have. We have some nice, big old houses and big roofs and people who are interested in participating in modern energy options.”

Motz is unsure just how many people in Medford will sign up. According to the Clean Energy Center, 965 homes and businesses took part in the 21 communities chosen in the first two years of the Solarize Mass. campaign. Among area participants, Winchester added 35 solar projects in 2011, when it was among four communities chosen for a pilot program, and last year Melrose signed up 79 while Newburyport added 46.

Marc Grant, with Solarize Chelmsford, said he hopes to have 120 homes and businesses add solar panels this year. Chelmsford is working partnering with Carlisle on the project; they joined Medford and seven other communities around the state chosen last month for the first round of the current Solarize Mass. program.

Grant said residents who choose solar will see immediate savings. “Either way, your electric rate will be cheaper than the utility offers,” he said.

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