, Newburyport, MA

November 15, 2012

Newburyporters increase solar output 6-fold

staff reports
Newburyport Daily News

---- — NEWBURYPORT — The city has finished its effort to inspire homeowners and businesses to install solar arrays on their buildings, and the results will burn bright for years to come.

In the course of about six months, the number of private buildings with solar arrays has more than quadrupled to 61, and the amount of energy that can be produced has increased six-fold, to 423 kilowatt hours. That’s about enough energy to power almost 40 homes over the course of a year, according to statistics from the U.S. Energy Administration.

Newburyport was one of 17 communities selected across the state to take part in Solarize Massachusetts, a state-run program that offered reduced costs and tax incentives for solar arrays. The program’s sign-up period expired earlier this month.

“This was a real community effort,” said Jill Haley Murphy, a Newburyport resident and the co-chair of the Solarize Newburyport committee. “The response we got was tremendous.”

The committee held informational sessions explaining the nuts and bolts of installing a solar array, and set up a booth at the Newburyport Farmers Market. Attendance at the sessions was strong, Haley Murphy noted.

But unfortunately, not everyone who wanted a solar array could get one, she said. Roof architecture, the orientation of the building, and shade trees play a major factor in whether a solar array can be installed.

“Some people were disappointed that they couldn’t put a solar array on their home,” she said. Haley Murphy was among them — shade trees next to her home make it impossible to install the panels.

The upfront cost was daunting for some. It required a $1,000 upfront payment.

But for others, the arrays have worked out great.

“The general vibe we get from people when we install them is, ‘Thank goodness,’” said Ben Mayer of Sunbug Solar, the company that installed the arrays in Newburyport. The process of filling out paperwork and getting permits can be long, but Mayer said when the arrays finally go up on buildings, the company sees “many, many happy customers.”

Once installed, people will start to see the impact. Power produced goes directly into the home or business’s consumption. If it produces more than is consumed, the power goes out into the electric grid, and the customer gets a credit for the energy produced.

Mayer said in Newburyport, 40 residences and six commercial buildings had solar arrays installed, but because of the size of the arrays, the energy produced breaks down to about 50/50 between residential and commercial.

Haley Murphy said the group received tremendous support for its efforts, ranging from storeowners who put up posters in their windows to volunteers who helped spread the word, residents and business owners who came forward to express their interest, city officials who lent a hand and The Daily News for providing much publicity.

Besides Newburyport, communities that took part in the program this year were Acton, Arlington, Boston, Hopkinton, Lenox, Lincoln, Melrose, Mendon, Millbury, Montague, Palmer, Pittsfield, Shirley, Sudbury, Sutton and Wayland.

Overall, Newburyport signed up a respectable number of solar projects compared to the other communities. It had the fifth largest amount of kilowatt hours and the sixth most solar arrays, according to the state Clean Energy Center. The numbers are impressive, as the communities that did better than Newburyport had much larger populations — in fact, Newburyport fell just 100 kilowatts short of Boston’s tally.

Newburyport had hoped to exceed the total kilowatt production of last year’s leading community, Harvard. It succeeded in doing that, by 21 kilowatt hours, she said.

Haley Murphy said it’s unclear whether Newburyport will offer a similar program in the future. It’s thought that the state doesn’t offer the same program two years in a row to a community, and so Newburyport may decide to start its own program if it is feasible.

The state has a goal of achieving 250 megawatts of solar power by 2017. As a result of the Solarize Mass program and other incentives, the state is more than halfway to its goal — with 174 megawatts installed to date, the equivalent of powering 27,521 homes.