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Ashfield hopes to join solar consortium

ASHFIELD — Ashfield and Plainfield hope to form a three-town consortium with Buckland with the aim of saving homeowners money on residential solar-panel installations.

Plainfield Energy Committee Chairman Tim Walter recently attended an Ashfield Selectboard meeting to explain a state program, Solarize Mass, that wants to encourage the switch to solar energy for towns and their residents.

Single towns or multiple town consortiums must have municipal energy committees and at least 1,000 residential homes and businesses to be eligible for grants and reduced costs for installing solar photovoltaic systems.

Selectboard members unanimously voted to participate, and Walter said he’ll be asking Plainfield selectmen to endorse the idea at their next meeting. Walter said he plans to attend a Buckland selectmen’s meeting later this month to see if they want to join also.

If the three towns apply to participate in Solarize Mass later this summer, they would have about 1,440 eligible properties for ground-mount or rooftop solar energy systems — more than enough businesses and residential properties to qualify. If the consortium is approved, each town gets a $2,500 grant, $500 of which would be used by each town to hire a solar-energy coach. The rest would be spent to promote and publicize the solar program to residents.

The more residents and businesses that sign up for the solar program within a certain deadline, the greater the solar discount for the whole consortium. For instance, Amherst could get a 10.5 percent aggregate discount on solar installations contracted with a designated installer, on systems that will produce a combined solar energy output of at least 200 kilowatts. The discount for each participating resident or business is on a per-kilowatt basis, with the larger savings on larger systems.

Residents within a Whately-Williamsburg-Chesterfield consortium have until June 30 to take advantage of the program’s energy savings and they have already reached the lowest price offered for installation.

There are five tiers of discount, based on total installed kilowatts. To qualify, towns must have had an energy committee for at least a year. The program is state-funded; the state selects three contractors for the solar PV installations, and the consortium is to pick one of the three.

Besides saving on the cost of installation itself, current state law says solar installations cannot be used to increase assessed value of the home or business for 20 years.

Walter said the next round of Solarize Mass funding will take place in the fall.

According to information he presented in Ashfield, solar installations statewide have increased from 3 megawatts in 2006 to 490 megawatts this year.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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