Harnessing the Power of the Sun

Harnessing the Power of the Sun

The idea of powering a home with the sun has energized residents of Milford; a standing-room-only public forum in December proved that. Now, the number of city homes using solar power is growing thanks to Solarize Milford, an 18-week program designed to double the number of solar-powered houses here by offering a simple, affordable way for residents to save on energy costs.

Banner-Milford“There were about 150 homes in the city already using solar power when we started this,” said J. Alan Brewster, chair of the city’s Energy Advisory Board (EAB). “We’re hoping to reduce energy use, local air pollution and the amount of carbon in the air by increasing that number.” The city also benefits by earning credits toward solar equipment for municipal buildings, thus cutting additional costs. Currently, Lisman Landing is powered by solar thanks to this program, said Brewster.

The EAB recommended that Milford apply to become part of Solarize CT, a concentrated campaign for residential solar power created by Connecticut Green Bank. In two years, this statewide program has doubled the number of homes benefiting from the sun’s energy to 2,000 in about 58 towns and cities. This increase is in line nationally: the US Department of Energy states the number of homes with solar systems has increased from 30 thousand in 2006 to 400 thousand in 2013, with many of those converting in the last few years.

“Milford has taken a pledge to reduce energy use by 20% by 2020,” said Brewster, “Solarize Milford is helping us to do that.”

The campaign makes it easy to decide if solar power is right for your home. A representative from Encon Solar, the chosen vendor, provides a free assessment which looks at the structure of your home, the direction it faces, sunlight availability or restrictions, and an analysis of how much you can save on energy costs after installation. “Technology has improved and the costs for paneling and installation have been reduced,” said Jay Chabot, a sales rep for Encon. Equipment can be purchased outright, financed through a lender or leased over the long term. It can also be passed on to new owners or removed if the home is sold at some point.

Chabot says the process from beginning to end depends on many variables like the processing of paperwork, inspections and permits from the state, utility company and city, and of course, the weather. “If you’ve ever done construction on your home, you know how things come up but we work with you and have solar and master electricians on staff,” he added.

According to Brewster, the biggest challenge has been trying to get the word out quickly because the application deadline for Solarize Milford is April 9. That’s where SmartPower comes in, says Bernie Pelletier, Community Outreach Manager. Connecticut Green Bank hired SmartPower to help promote the program throughout participating cities. “We find volunteers like Alan Brewster and the EAB, recruit “solar ambassadors” already using solar power in the city, host meetings with residents and community groups and help with mailings and promotions,” said Pelletier. He noted that most people will buy several cars and homes in their lifetimes, but will probably buy only one solar system so outreach is important.

Kim Meeneghan, a Milford resident for 32 years, was looking forward to solar installation in February. “All the power we collect during the day goes into the [power] grid but when we use electricity, it pulls from the grid,” he said. Although not part of the Solarize Milford program—his installer is Sungevity—he expects to save hundreds of dollars in energy costs this year. He leased his equipment and other than an energy audit, had no other out-of-pocket expenses. Chabot from Encon said there is a federal tax break for residents installing solar, also.

Although Meeneghan’s home will not be counted in the city’s goal to double the number of homes with solar power, there is still a benefit. “Solarize Milford is a specific program with specific targets but in the end, everyone benefits from the environmental impact,” said Brewster.

The future of solar power in Milford will continue to grow as the city earns credits from the campaign. Watch for solar panels coming soon to the Milford Arts Council building at the railroad station.

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