WILLIAMSTOWN - More than 70 people so far have signed up for site assessments through Solarize Mass, a program that utilizes community partnerships to offer discounted rates for solar installation. In April, Williamstown and nine other towns were selected for the first round of Solarize Mass 2013 and installations are expected to begin in the fall.
Matt Kakley of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which along with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources oversees the program, said each installation must be completed within a year of when the contract is signed, but that some installations may begin as early as this summer.
The contracting period is open until the end of September, he said, "so there is a big push from the installers to do site assessments and do contracting during that period. And then the focus kind of shifts more towards installations."
Community partners in Williamstown include the COOL (C02 Lowering) Committee, the Center for Environmental Technology and the Center for Environmental Studies at Williams College. Jake Laughner, an environmental engineer, is the town's designated "solar coach," and will serve as an initial point of contact for the CEC.
In April, members of the CEC offered a "Solar 101" public information session, and Laughner will help organize a "Meet Your Installer Night" June 10 at 7 p.m. at the Williams Inn. Opportunities for the public to learn more about the program and sign up for site assessments will continue throughout the summer.
With the help of the CEC, which submitted statewide requests for proposals and provided technical consultation, representatives from Williamstown selected Real Goods Solar as the town's installer. The Albany-based company also was selected as this year's solar installer for Lee and Northampton.
"We're very impressed so far with Real Goods' ability to communicate and reach out to the public and the way they handle themselves," said Laughner. He added that Real Goods already has completed several site assessments and has received at least one "soft commitment" for a solar installation.
Pricing for the installations depends on how many total kilowatts are installed in the town. Laughner had originally anticipated that Williamstown would fall somewhere in the middle of a five-tiered pricing range, but after a significant turnout at Solar 101, he and Real Goods are optimistic that the town could reach tier five.
The average residential system produces 5kW of electricity, he said. "So if you get more than, say, 40 [systems], then you've probably installed enough to get up to your 200kW capacity, and that gets you over the hop to tier five."
But even at tier one, he said, the town would benefit, because "the contractor has to put together very competitive pricing bids even to get started."
The state provides each participating town with a marketing budget to help spread the word about Solarize Mass. But the savings associated with the program come mainly from a group-buying model that allows installers to offer highly competitive rates. The state, in turn, benefits by advancing its renewable energy initiative.
Laughner believes the Solarize Mass program will continue for some time. "But each community that participates in it does have just that limited period of time to get it done," he said "So this is our moment here in Williamstown."