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Group Seeks To Double Solar Homes

5 Upper Valley Towns Facilitate Installation

Hartford — To help facilitate the adoption of solar energy, five Upper Valley energy committees, including Plainfield, have signed on to a Vital Communities’ initiative called Solarize Upper Valley. They aim to double the number of solar-powered residences in just 15 weeks.

“It’s much easier than it was when we were doing it years ago,” said Dori Wolfe, former chair of Strafford’s energy committee and a consultant on the project. “It’s no longer new or scary.”

For example, there are currently 40 solar electric or solar hot water systems in Plainfield, but there is opportunity for more, said Nancy Mogielnicki, chairperson of the Plainfield Energy Committee.

“There’s a lot of interest in solar energy in Plainfield,” she said. “A lot of people think about it, but they don’t know how to take the first step.”

The Upper Valley project is modeled after the New England Solar Challenge, which includes four key elements to spur adoption of solar power: town-supported outreach, a pre-selected solar installer, discount pricing and a fixed end date, in this case June 30. The program has seen previous success in Massachusetts and Connecticut, said Sarah Simonds, Vital Communities energy program manager.

The initiative is designed to remove barriers that typically discourage users from adopting solar technology, such as vetting an installer and establishing group pricing structures, said Simonds.

Each of the participating communities — Thetford-Strafford, Cornish-Plainfield, and Lyme — worked with Vital Communities to identify solar installers who would be willing to be part of the program. Then, local energy committees selected the winning bids, weighing factors such as price, experience, reliability, and marketing.

Thetford and Strafford chose to work with Central Vermont-based Catamount Solar in partnership with Integrity Energy, and Plainfield and Cornish opted to work with Keene-based Solar Source. Deliberations are ongoing in Lyme.

The average starting base price for Solarize Upper Valley is $3.80 per watt, but as more neighbors sign on the price could drop to $3.40 per watt or less, allowing all participants to take advantage of economies of scale, said Simonds.

The specific rates for individual customers may vary depending on certain cost adders, for example ground mounts will be an additional expense. Individuals with projects of more than 6 kilowatts will receive a discount, while those with smaller installations will pay a bit more, allowing customers to further benefit from scale-related efficiencies.

Simonds anticipates a sort of domino effect in adoption.

“For every solar installation, the chance of there being another one increases even more,” she said. “Solar is the gateway drug to energy; it gets people talking.”

Solarize Thetford-Strafford will be the first initiative to launch, with an event set for Sunday, March 9, 6:30 p.m. at the Thetford Hill Congregational Church. Solarize Cornish-Plainfield will follow on March 18 at the Plainfield Town Hall, and Lyme will launch last on March 19 in the school cafeteria, both events will take place at 7 p.m.

People who attend can anticipate a presentation to include a walk-through of what it would feel like to be a solar customer, said Simonds. Energy committee members, the selected installers, and residents already involved with solar power will be on hand to answer questions.

Simonds hopes residents will “come away feeling like part of a community,” she said.

Solarize Norwich is a concurrent, but independent effort to boost residential solar power installations in that community. The Norwich Energy Committee is working in collaboration with two homegrown installers, Norwich Technologies and Solaflect on an ongoing basis.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.