Solarize Connecticut: Selectmen approve Easton’s participation

The sun may not be everyone’s friend in asolar panels heat wave, but it could enable Easton residents to save money in the future.

The Board of Selectmen on July 11 voted unanimously to approve the town’s participation in a state program that allows homeowners to receive a discount on installing solar panels.

Cathy Alfandre, chairwoman of the town’s Clean Energy Task Force, had requested that the selectmen approve the town joining Trumbull and Redding in filing an application to participate in Solarize Connecticut. The program allows residents to achieve “group discount pricing” by joining other residents in the three towns who want to install solar panels on their homes.

Solarize Connecticut is a partnership among the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, established in July 2011 by the state’s General Assembly, the John Merck Fund and Putnam Foundation, which are private foundations, and SmartPower, a national non-profit whose mission is to promote clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Towns that participated in Solarize Connecticut’s first phase were Fairfield, Westport, Durham and Portland, while towns that participated in the second phase were Bridgeport, Canton, Coventry, and Mansfield/Windham, according to Solarize Connecticut’s website.

The best home for solar panels is one whose south-facing roof receives unobstructed sunlight for most or all of the day, according to the website.

Ms. Alfandre said the price for an individual homeowner to install the panels would total $17,038, but it could be lowered to $9,443 if he or she was part of a group of at least 35 homeowners from across Easton, Redding and Trumbull, because one installer would do all of the installations. “The purpose of the program is to create economies of scale for installing solar panels on a home,” she said to the selectmen. “The lowest possible price is reached with 35 homes.” The prices she cited, for both one homeowner and a group of at least 35, were after federal tax credits and an estimated incentive from the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority.

First Selectman Thomas A. Herrmann said there was no financial commitment from the town except for potential costs associated with the Clean Energy Task Force publicizing the program. Ms. Alfandre said Easton already has 18 solar panel installations, and the task force would like to contact those homeowners in hopes they would talk publicly about how the solar panels have worked for them. “Our task force would do all the legwork,” she said.

The proposed contract says the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, through SmartPower, would provide the town with marketing materials and training for “selected community solar ambassadors.” The marketing materials “will assist the community with its education, outreach and marketing efforts in order to gain attendance at local meetings and participation in the program,” the contract says.

Ms. Alfandre said the Solarize Connecticut program started a year ago and noted that the neighboring towns of Fairfield, Westport and Bridgeport already are participating. She said Easton homeowners had approached her and said they were interested in installing solar panels on their homes but felt the cost was too expensive. If enough homeowners in the three towns participated to lower the cost to $9,443, the payback would be from five to eight years, she said. She said the average solar array generated seven kilowatts an hour of electricity.

The third phase of Solarize Connecticut would take place from September through January, but the town had to file an application to join Trumbull and Redding by the day after the selectmen’s meeting, according to Ms. Alfandre. “We would just love to get your blessing — your blessing and your signature,” she said to the selectmen.

“It sounds like a great program,” said Selectmen Scott S. Centrella.

In a letter written to the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority before the selectmen’s meeting, Mr. Herrmann noted that the town already partners with Trumbull on the Greater Bridgeport Regional Council and the Southwest Division of the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, and already partners with Redding on a regional high school, mutual aid and clean energy activities.

He added in the letter that the town’s Clean Energy Task Force had installed solar panels on Samuel Staples Elementary School, completed a municipal high-performance/LED lighting project and achieved nearly a 7% sign-up rate for its Clean Energy Options program.

“I believe Easton and our partner towns can achieve great results with the Solarize CT program this fall and winter,” Mr. Herrmann said in the letter.

Ms. Alfandre said she expects to know by August if Easton has been approved to participate in Solarize Connecticut. “Our first meeting to really get going would be in September,” she said.

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