Bethel launches initiative to encourage solar energy
BETHEL — As the town builds its solar farm, Bethel aims to make it easier for residents to do the same on a smaller scale.
The town has joined a statewide program to launch Solarize Bethel, an effort to educate residents about solar power and encourage them to install panels on their homes. The 20-week campaign begins at 7 p.m. Oct. 19 with a free workshop at the municipal center.
“We hope that they learn the benefits of installing solar and begin installing solar systems in their residences,” said Bill Cratty, chairman of the Energy Conservation Committee.
The committee is working with Solarize Connecticut, a program started by the Connecticut Green Bank and managed by the nonprofit SmartPower, which has helped 2,500 homeowners in 83 communities to install solar over five years. Six other municipalities, including Fairfield and New Haven, have active programs, and towns such as Brookfield and Newtown have participated in the past.
When Solarize Connecticut launched in 2012, about 900 homes across the state had solar power. Five years later, that number has risen to 23,000, said Chamae Munroe Mejias, community outreach manager for SmartPower.
“There’s been a huge explosion throughout the state,” she said. “It hasn’t all happened within the Solarize model, but it really has raised awareness for solar.”
The initiative works by making installing solar easy and affordable, Mejias said. The town and SmartPower have already found a contractor, Ross Solar, to install panels in homes. The company also gives residents a discounted rate.
On average, homeowners pay $15,000 for a seven-kilowatt array,, either up front or over a period of several years.
But when energy savings are taken into account, Mejias said, the panels pay for themselves in eight to 10 years. The average homeowner pays $1,700 a year for electricity, but with solar panels residents need to pay only $10 a month to the town to be connected to the grid, she said. The panels have a life span of at least 25 years.
“The town of Bethel decided this is something they wanted to bring to the residents to help save them money,” Mejias said. “Especially with what’s going on with the state budget, a lot of communities are thinking, ‘We might have to raise taxes. Is there anything we can do to offset that?’”
The town set an example this summer when it began construction on a solar farm on the former landfill on Sympaug Park Road. The 2,900-panel, 948-kilowatt array is expected to open this fall.
Bethel is one of 11 towns to take advantage of a state law that allows municipalities to sell energy produced through a solar farm back to the grid for credit.
The town also accepted a $10,000 grant last month for energy savings projects and plans to hold a light bulb exchange this month.
“We thought this [Solarize Bethel] would also be a great add to all the work that was already going on,” said Suneetha Malkani, a member of the Energy Conservation Committee.
The program will also allow the town to do its part to protect the environment, organizers said.
A seven-kilowatt array offsets 5.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. This is the equivalent of planting 6.7 acres of trees, Mejias said.
“The environmental impact of installing solar panels compared to what it really requires of us is pretty enormous,” she said. “It’s not very hard to do it.”