Harvard Is Gem Of State’s Solar Program

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taken from WBJ Journal

One in every 20 households in Harvard is now generating solar power as part of a state program that subsidizes the installation of solar panels.

That’s according to Mark Durrenberger, president of Hudson-based New England Clean Energy, formerly New England Breeze Solar, which handled more than 80 percent of the installations over the past two years.

Numbers Game
Solarize Harvard, the state’s solar pilot program, part of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), launched in the summer of 2011.

It offers homeowners a break on PV solar installation costs based on how many households in town sign up, and gives homeowners rebates depending on the size of the system installed.

Out of the towns where the MassCEC pilot program was launched —Scituate, Hatfield, Winchester and Harvard — Harvard had the most participation by residents, said Durrenberger, with 72 home installations in 2011, and 67 in 2012.

In the end, because so many Harvard residents participated in the program, each received Tier 4-discount pricing — the highest tier possible, according to the company’s website — reducing the cost of an average system by about 25 percent.

Collectively, Durrenberger said, the homeowners who had solar energy generation systems installed in Harvard will save upward of $54,000 a year in power costs and produce about 388,000 kilowatt-hours a year — enough to fully power 51 homes in Massachusetts for a year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The first installation in Harvard was in August of 2011, he said, and N.E. Clean Energy was still signing people up for solar installations this past October.

Local Conditions Ideal
Why such great results in Harvard?

Calling it “an incredibly successful social experiment,” Durrenberger said the demographic of the town and a solid volunteer base certainly helped.

Harvard is affluent, with a median household income of $142,411, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That helps when it comes to finding residents who can pay or finance the upfront cost of $17,382 — after tax benefits — to install a typical 6-kilowatt electric system, according to N.E. Clean Energy’s website.

Additionally, Durrenberger said, many in town seemed to value having a local company to do the work.

“Neighbors talked it up,” he said. “People saw we were doing it and doing it well.”

Volunteers in Harvard also helped inform homeowners about the benefits of solar, Durrenberger said.

“A big part of what they do is making people aware and explaining what it was,” he said, and how it can benefit not only the planet but their budgets over the long haul.

Industry Challenges Ahead
While Harvard can be called a solar success story, overall solar industry challenges — such as less-than-ethical contractors — continue to plague Massachusetts and other states, said Durrenberger. In his new role as a director of the Solar Energy Business Association of New England (SEBANE), he’s hoping to work to help solve these and other problems.

“There are shysters out there, and every buyer has to be careful,” said Durrenberger, adding that being educated on what goes into a good solar installation is helpful.

Establishing a solar installer certification is one SEBANE goal, he said.

Christopher Kilfoyle, a founding member of SEBANE and a principal at Adams-based Berkshire Photovoltaic Services, said certification is not a clear-cut situation, and is still being worked out. “Presently there is a great deal of confusion in Massachusetts about what tasks in a solar installation must be done by particular licensed specialty trades,” Kilfoyle wrote in an email.

More consistent permitting is another item on SEBANE’s wish list for the Bay State solar industry, and other states, says Kilfoyle. Durrenberger agrees something needs to be done. Studies have shown permitting is lengthy and expensive here as compared to Germany, for example, he said, and varies from town to town, utility to utility.

“They’ve adopted a (view) that solar is a really important strategy and the mindset that made it easy to get on roofs,” he said of the Germany.

But despite the challenges ahead in smoothing the path for future solar installations, Harvard got it done.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the Harvard community’s commitment to renewable energy,” Harvard Selectman Timothy Clark said in a recent announcement about the program.