Sutton Town Administrator Jim Smith continues to look for ways to integrate solar power into the town’s municipal infrastructure, and now he is trying to find a way to make it more readily available and attractive to homeowners in Sutton. Smith is applying for a Mass. Solarize Grant in partnership with Millbury, which he hopes the town will receive so it can begin the process of picking a solar panel provider and creating a system for people in town to be able to afford the PV panels on their roofs.
Smith says the town will know if it will get the grant from the state by the end of the month — there is a one week turnaround on the application. What the grant will allow is the town to help residents put PV Solar Panels on their roofs by bringing in a contractor to work locally with the residents who wish to put up to 15 kilowatt systems on their roofs.
If the town gets the grant, according to Smith, the State Department of Energy Resource (DOER) and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) will put the project out to bid, which, according to Smith, will bring the price down because of the nature of a bidding process and because it will allow contractors to work in a localized area, which is cheaper than having to drive around the state for projects.
Smith hopes to have the same success with the project that the town of Harvard had in 2010 with the project, where it generated enough kilowatts that residents got the cheapest rate afforded to them.
“The going rate in 2009 was 5.75 per kilowatt hour, and they [the town] went out to bid and got better rates simply because of the bidding process,” Smith told The Millbury-Sutton Chronicle after Tuesday’s Sutton Board of Selectmen Meeting. “And these solar providers wanted to get the business because they were going to localize in Millbury and Sutton and they would be mobilized and go house to house, so there wouldn’t be a lot of moving around and they’d be able to buy all their equipment and work locally.”
For residents, solar panels can be expensive. So, the grant money and the bidding process allows the town and the solar companies to set up a tiered paying system. For every 100 kilowatts installed, the price goes down for everyone involved in the program – there are four tiers. The goal is to get as many people to sign up as possible to get the payments down to a lower price tier for everyone who signs up.
“What’s the first tier and then say we only get 100 kilowatts in, it’s going to cost this rate, and that’s what the providers will determine. If the last rate and the tier system comes into affect, then the first person will get the tier four rate,” said Smith. “The first person gets the last persons rate. So, there is not only an incentive to sign up early, but also to encourage your friends and family to sign up so the price continues to go lower.”
Smith is one of the nine residents in Sutton who already has solar panels on their roofs. He hasn’t had to pay an electric bill in three months he says because of the power being generated by the solar panels he has. On top of the power the panels generate for the home owner, the excess power, if there is any, can be sold back to the grid. Then there are Solar Renewable Energy Credits that people can sell for between $263-$600 for the time being. With the money Smith has received from the credits he hopes to pay off his home equity loan on his solar panels in five years, and then he hopes to continue to sell the credits and make money from them. Those credits are also what is helping pay for the solar panels on the Simonian Early Learning Center Roof.
This is a project Smith is excited about. He hopes to bring in more outside money to the town while continuing to push a green energy initiative. Sutton and Millbury are able to apply for this grant because both towns were recently awarded the distinction of being Green Communities in Massachusetts.
“It makes plenty of economic sense. It makes plenty of environmental sense. And when those two criteria are met and when the environment and the economy get together, not only are you saving and making money but you are also saving the environment and it becomes a no-brainer at that point,” said Smith.
Smith wants to host a solar fair in May to give residents a platform to understand how the solar panels and the system works.