Project promoting solar energy launched in New Canaan
It makes economic sense. That was the overall view voiced by solar energy experts as they tried Tuesday to convince New Canaan residents to go solar.
The group promoted their ideas to nearly 100 people attending a workshop to kick off the 18-week Solarize New Canaan program, a public-private partnership that aims to increase the number of solar energy systems installed locally through outreach efforts and discounted prices.
The program uses a tiered-pricing structure to reduce the cost of solar installations with an equation that the more residents sign up, the more the cost will drop. This is part of the fifth phase of Solarize Connecticut, which has been adopted in 43 municipalities so far.
Joanne Kennedy, a Utilities Commission member who's coordinating the program, said the typical result is that local solar installations more than double over the course of the program. In New Canaan, there are currently 27 solar panel installations.
The case for solar in the state has become stronger this year, as Connecticut Light & Power has won rate increases for electricity it charges customers. On Monday, the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority issued a draft decision that would allow CL&P to boost the monthly connection fee to $19.25. The rate in the draft decision will be imposed in addition to standard rate increases approved several weeks earlier by PURA due to a rise in the cost of purchasing electricity. Under those rates, the average CL&P customer would see a $10 monthly increase.
Additionally, more and more towns in Connecticut are trying to educate residents about solar. More than 9,000 homes in the state have put solar panels on their roofs. Three years ago, the number was in the hundreds, according to Bob Wall, director of marketing and outreach for the Connecticut Green Bank.
"A lot of people don't realize or believe that solar works well in Connecticut," he said. "It's true that we don't have as much sunlight as they do in Arizona or California, but we have a lot more than Germany and Germany is the world's leading adopter of solar energy. So when you couple that with our unfortunately high electricity rates, the economic proposition of solar is undeniable."
The key driver for the discount is the solar campaign itself, which translates into increased business for solar installers. "Because we're eliminating some of their marketing costs, they can pass the savings to you," Wall said.
He said the average savings a property owner could realize by installing the solar panels through the Solarize program could be about 15 percent.
Also attending the workshop at New Canaan High School were First Selectman Robert Mallozzi, Selectman Beth Jones, SmartPower officials and representatives of PurePoint Energy, a Norwalk-based solar installer that was chosen to be the official installer for the New Canaan program.
The main financing options, which include tax credits and rebates through Solarize, are a 10-year loan for those who want to own the equipment, or a 20-year lease -- the latter being the more popular choice, according to Tom Wemyss, of PurePoint Energy.
The monthly solar payments, Wemyss projects, would be about $191 for families opting for the loan plan and about $93 for those choosing to lease. The estimated savings on the electricity bill, assuming an annual 3 percent rate increase, would be about $184 a month, according to Wemyss.
After 20 years, homeowners would see approximately $56,000 in electricity savings, while the estimated net savings after 20 years would be $28,000 for those who buy the equipment and nearly $37,000 for lease holders, Wemyss said.
Kennedy noted that residents are not prohibited from hiring their own solar installers. PurePoint, she said, will simply be the designated installer during the program. All contracts must be signed by April 8 to participate.
Along with Kennedy, Utilities Commission Chairman Howard Freeman and resident Heather Lauver, an environmental consultant, have been chosen as ambassadors of Solarize New Canaan. Lauver's family went solar in 2012 and has since reduced annual energy costs from $9,000 to less than $1,200, she said.
Jones and Mallozzi credited the Solarize New Canaan organizers and the Utilities Commission for working to make the town more sustainable.
"We are really starting to move," Jones said. "This is a great start."
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