Slow-growing small-scale solar program picks up Springfield and Longmeadow


Two more Massachusetts communities have been selected to participate in a seven-year-old state program that officials say has led to 3,400 new small-scale solar installations in homes and businesses across Massachusetts, in part by aggregating the buying power of participants.

Springfield and Longmeadow will participate in the Solarize Mass program, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center announced Wednesday, joining a program that has taken hold in Boston and its surrounding suburbs, as well as many communities in western Massachusetts and on the Outer Cape.
Sixty-nine cities and towns have participated in the program, under which communities utilize a competitive bidding process to select installers “that feature the most attractive pricing, outreach and community education packages.”

Homeowners and business owners who want to participate can purchase the solar electricity systems directly or enter into a lease or power purchase agreement with the installer, if those options are offered. Under a lease or power purchase agreement, the installers own, operate and maintain the systems, and homeowners and business owners agree to buy power at a specific rate.

Program sponsors say it increases the adoption of solar electric systems by using grassroots educational campaigns. Solarize Mass installations have created 23 megawatts of solar capacity and reduced greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 1,900 cars off the road annually, according to the center.

“We look forward to seeing low-income communities participate in the Solarize program as we continue to a move Massachusetts towards cleaner energy while working to meet our climate goals,” Rep. Carlos Gonzalez (D-Springfield) said in a statement. “This truly is great news for Longmeadow and the entire Pioneer Valley,” added Rep. Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow).

The number of communities added to the program, and the associated solar installations and capacity, fell in 2017 and 2018, compared to the program’s earlier years. In 2017, five communities participated, with 90 contracted systems.

By comparison, 15 communities participated in 2014 and 932 contracted systems were logged under the program that year. And while most communities have not yet participated in Solarize Mass, six communities have participated in the program twice. Lincoln, Sudbury and Wayland participated twice as part of a joint program, and Newburyport, Provincetown and Wellfleet also participated twice, according to the clean energy center. According to Craig Gilvarg, a spokesman for the clean energy center, all communities that have applied for the program have been selected over the past two years.

While characterizing demand for the program was “strong,” Gilvarg also said the center was not receiving more applications than could be accepted. In a statement regarding the additions of Springfield and Longmeadow, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton said, “Solarize Mass is focused on bringing affordable clean energy into the homes of residents across the Commonwealth while diversifying the state’s energy portfolio. In addition to lowering energy bills for homeowners, this program will help the Commonwealth meet our greenhouse gas reduction requirements.”

A Solarize Mass Plus program, first piloted in 2017, is underway in Lowell and features the Solarize Mass model with additional offerings associated with solar hot water or air source heat pumps. Massachusetts has 2,240 megawatts of solar capacity installed statewide, enough to power more than 354,000 homes, according to the clean energy center.

The Solarize Mass program is one of many efforts underway in government to reduce carbon emissions and ramp up renewable energy. Beacon Hill lawmakers have debated the pace of growth in the renewable energy sector this session and last session, leading to two major clean energy laws, and the issue will likely be on the table again in the 2019-2020 session, with many in the Legislature concerned that the state will miss its statutory emissions reductions targets.

In the just-completed election cycle, clean energy advocates at 350 Mass Action and the Massachusetts Sierra Club endorsed Democrat Jay Gonzalez over Gov. Baker, and renewable energy advocates are likely in the new session to again lean on the Legislature to accelerate renewable energy growth. “While we applauded Governor Baker’s decision to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement, the time for incremental action to tackle climate change is over,” David Rudolph, chair of the Massachusetts Sierra Club Political Committee, said in a statement about a month before the election. “Our solar industry lost jobs the last two years in a row. We need a leader in Massachusetts who will act decisively to reduce our carbon emissions by growing our local renewable energy industry and electrifying our transportation system.”

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