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photo of Solarize Mass gathering in Northampton

On the evening of Thursday, June 13th, Northampton residents gathered together to meet the company to participate in the Solarize Mass Northampton program that runs through September 30th. Real Goods Solar was selected through a competitive process by a committee made up of MassCEC, DOER, a technical consultant, and three members of the community review team. Company staff introduced themselves and gave a beginner’s overview to the process and the options for going solar. The event also featured a presentation by Elizabeth Youngblood of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), who explained the benefits of Solarize Mass in participating communities.

The goal of Solarize Mass, a partnership between the Green Communities Division of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and the MassCEC, is to simplify the process of going solar, through education and the reduction of installation cost. In addition to Northampton, the current round of Solarize Mass communities includes: Bourne, Brookline, Chelmsford and Carlisle, Lee, Medford, Medway, Newton, and Williamstown.

Youngblood listed several benefits of going solar available throughout the state, including a federal tax incentive worth 30 percent of the total cost of installation, state incentives, and rebates from MassCEC. Through Solarize Mass, Northampton residents can install solar for $0 down by agreeing to a power purchase agreement with the installer.

Youngblood also explained Solarize Mass’ tier pricing system that rewards the entire community by lowering the cost of going solar each time a certain number of contracts are executed. Northampton received the happy news that it has already reached Tier 3 pricing, out of five possible tiers, making installation of a solar electric system 26 percent lower than the statewide average cost at the start of the 2013 Solarize Mass program.

The event worked to answer many community members’ questions: What if you don’t use all of the solar energy your panels collect? With net metering, the energy goes back into the grid and the company credits it to you for your later use. What if your solar panels don’t cover your entire electricity bill? Residents would purchase additional electricity from their utility. What if your solar panels don’t collect enough energy? With a free consultation, the installer can determine whether your house is in a suitable location for solar. In summer, Massachusetts produces as much solar energy as Northern California, and snow and pollen pose no significant threat to energy absorption.

While electricity prices are rising at about 3 percent per year on average in Massachusetts, the cost per watt of solar energy is down to $5 from $10 just five years ago. Those who own their solar PV systems also earn Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, which can then be sold for cash to electricity suppliers under state mandate to purchase for their ratepayers a minimum threshold of renewable power each year. That threshold is raised annually by law. MassCEC and the Green Communities Division plan to select additional cities and towns for another round of Solarize Mass later this year. For more info on how your community can participate in Solarize Mass, visit solarizemass.com.

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Jessi provided DOER with another pair of eyes and ears in Western Massachusetts this summer, hoping to spread the word about successful energy projects as inspiration and guidance for communities with sustainability aspirations. She is a senior at Smith College, where she studies English Language and Literature, with a minor in Computer Science. Jessi plans to use the communications skills from her English degree to make “green” initiatives transparent and accessible to wider audiences. She has a particular interest in alternative transportation, as an avid cyclist and bike commuter. She is loyal to New England, born and raised a Mainer, and loves hiking and Ultimate Frisbee. She also loves nothing more than social media, and will go down tweeting.

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