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Sun shines on Montague solar plans

MONTAGUE — Sunshine will be more productive than ever before, with the Solarize Montague program more than doubling — on paper — the number of solar electric systems in town.

With the sign-up deadline passed, 42 residents have signed contracts to install solar panels, up 150 percent from the 28 systems existing before the program began this year, according to Sally Pick, a member of the Montague Energy Committee and the chief local organizer behind the effort.

Pick said the participants are mostly households with two larger installations planned for small farms.

Under the umbrella of the state-backed Solarize Massachusetts program, the local program worked to promote solar electricity by bundling buyers to Hatfield-based installer NorthEast Solar Design, saving through volunteer publicity and bulk purchase.

Prices were tied to a five-tier system with percentage reductions based on kilowatts contracted, and last-minute decisions before the Oct. 4 deadline pushed prices well into the fourth tier for a 10 percent discount off the starting price, according to Pick.

“Given that this was only, mostly, residential systems — small systems — it amazes me that we got so many people signed up,” Pick said. “And the enthusiasm in town was so high.”

Pick said interest in the program went well beyond the 42 residents who signed on, with many unable to participate because it was a bad time financially or their roofs or yards didn’t catch enough light.

NorthEast Solar has a year to complete all installations under its contract and the company began installing the systems before the close of the sign-up period.

“They’ve put up Three I’m aware of, and they’re putting in another one as we speak,” Pick said Tuesday.

In the 17 communities participating statewide, 802 residents and businesses signed contracts to install solar systems, for a total of 5.1 megawatts, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, enough electricity to power 807 Massachusetts homes annually.

By way of comparison, the Northfield Mountain solar farm is rated to produce 2 megawatts.

The Clean Energy Center describes itself as the first state agency in the nation dedicated solely to facilitating the development of the clean-energy industry.

Fresh from a conference call de-briefing the so-called “community solar coaches” organizing the effort in each town and city, Pick said state officials have not yet decided whether to offer the program for a third year.

“I was not alone in saying I would like to see this continue,” Pick said, saying she has heard interest from residents in at least three other communities.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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