Solarize New Haven, a program that brings solar energy to residents and businesses, launched in the city last Wednesday, making New Haven one of more than 80 other regional communities that are part of Solarize Connecticut’s larger initiative.
Solarize Connecticut, which was created by the Connecticut Green Bank in 2012, provides an affordable route for homeowners considering solar energy through discounted pricing, competitively selected installers, town-supported education and outreach workshops.
“We want to reduce any barriers that prevent people from moving forward,” said Chamae Mejias, community outreach manager at SmartPower, a nonprofit that administers the program. “The process should be simple to understand and financially affordable.”
Mejias explained that the local residential solar market has shown impressive growth. Five years ago, Connecticut was home to fewer than 900 residences with solar panels on their roofs; now the state houses more than 23,000 solar-powered homes.
As for New Haven, Mejias is aiming for at least 150 applicants before the registration phase of the project closes on March 7. Her ultimate goal is to install 30 solar panel systems in the Elm City, which would offset 171 metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 201 acres of forest.
“Would you rather spend a couple days tweaking your house or toil in the forest, planting 201 acres’ worth of trees?” she asked.
Environmental impact aside, an equally important aspect for consumers is affordability, Mejias said. Solarize New Haven’s economic viability is based on bulk purchasing of panels and reduced marketing expenses due to preorganized workshops supported by City Hall. RGS Energy, the cooperative’s exclusive installer, will provide the solar panels at a 20- to 25-percent discounted rate compared to standard pricing.
Tom Champlin, RGS Energy director of East Coast sales, said the company is “thrilled” to provide its services to New Haven. The city is the latest addition to a list of 42 communities throughout the country with which RGS Energy has partnered on previous solar initiatives.
Bloomfield is one example of a city that went through a similar program. Dave Bertoldi, resident of Bloomfield — which partnered with RGS Energy to bring panels to the town — installed a 16-panel system on his house in May 2007. He has not looked back since.
The panels are “performing flawlessly,” he said, and his electric bills are down to a third of their original price. Although public reception to renewable energy was lukewarm in 2007 compared to today, Bertoldi noted that solar panels have become ubiquitous in his neighborhood since the Solarize Bloomfield project started in 2014.
“Energy efficiency and prices have come a long way in the past decade,” Bertoldi said. “And it can only get cumulatively better.”
If ground-level participation is any indication, New Haven is positioned for even more success.
Compared to other states and cities, there are multiple citizen-based task forces in the Elm City.
“Their robustness becomes the driving force behind much of a project’s fruition, so we’re quite lucky in New Haven,” Mejias said.
Solarize New Haven’s three local partners include City Hall, the New Haven Climate Movement and the New Haven Energy Task Force, which consists of residents interested in bringing clean-energy opportunities to the city’s low- to moderate-income households.
At the moment, the task force is focused on legalizing Community Shared Solar — a program that allows residents who do not live in single-family homes to purchase panels collectively, said Kathy Fay, New Haven Energy Task Force chairwoman. As of now, Community Shared Solar is not legal in Connecticut, but it is allowed and actively implemented in Massachusetts and New York.
Fay and her colleagues received approval for the program from the Board of Alders in September, but they are pushing for state lawmakers and administrators to act.
According to Fay, Community Shared Solar would be especially useful in New Haven’s urban environment, which contains many multi-family complexes.
“[It is] crucial to provide options for residents who are interested in solar power but are without ownership of individual roofs,” Fay said. “It would greatly increase the number of urban residents for whom the benefits of solar energy can become available.”
The Solarize New Haven campaign will hold an educational workshop at Kroon Hall on Dec. 1.
Nicole Ahn | firstname.lastname@example.org