Glastonbury residents can get in on solar savings

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Wed., Nov. 20, 2013
Astrum Solar Sales Director Tom Smith explained the options and potential savings of the program to more than 100 Glastonbury residents at the kick-off event on Nov. 18. Photos by Steve Smith.
Astrum Solar Sales Director Tom Smith explained the options and potential savings of the program to more than 100 Glastonbury residents at the kick-off event on Nov. 18. Photos by Steve Smith.

Glastonbury residents currently have an opportunity to save on adding solar power to their homes, but the offer won't last long. At an informational meeting on Nov. 18, about 120 residents heard a presentation by representatives from Astrum Solar, as well as SmartPower (a national, non-profit marketing firm for renewable energy and efficiency) and the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA, a quasi-state agency) about the Solarize Connecticut program, and its benefits and costs of installing solar panels on their homes.

Town Manager Richard Johnson said the town had been approached by SmartPower and CEFIA about the program last August and has since been learning about the program and reviewing proposals from installers, which included pricing, equipment, experience, warrantees and other factors. An interview process followed, and Astrum Solar – a Maryland-based company with offices throughout the Northeast, including in Berlin, was selected for the program.

"They had a very straight-forward proposal," Johnson said. "There were very limited add-ons to the price that they were offering. We found that they had very, very favorable pricing."

Astrum has completed 3,500 total residential installations, and approximately 150 in Connecticut to date.

After the kickoff meeting, residents have 10 weeks to elect to take part in the program. The deadline is Jan. 28, 2014.

Robert Schmidt of CEFIA said the theme of the program is "Solar. Simple. Together." The program is aimed at making the process easier.

"Solar energy has proven to be affordable and effective," Schmidt said, "but it can be sometimes complicated to figure out how to put solar on your home, or how to approach the process."

The aggregation of the Glastonbury residents' purchases helps keep the cost down, Schmidt said, adding that Astrum was selected from 70 eligible installers in Connecticut and that "a number of very competitive bids" were received.

Kate Donnelly of SmartPower said the program is being offered to 23 communities in the state, and those programs have more than doubled the amount of solar use in those towns to date.

Astrum Solar's Connecticut Sales Director Tom Smith explained the process, as well as the potential energy savings. He explained that the panels collect photons from the sun and convert them to DC current, and that the energy is converted to AC power. "Basically, the sunlight is going to power the home during the day," Smith said. "It could be where your meter is spinning backward, so you're actually sending electricity back to the grid. At night, what happens is you are drawing electricity back."

The net-metering, he said, is where savings are seen.

Interested residents would receive a visit from an Astrum technician, who would assess the home, looking for things including south-facing roofs, trees and shading and other factors, in order to determine the number of panels and energy production a home could sustain. "Three things that we're looking for are lots of sunshine, open roof structures, and minimal shading," he said, adding that for some homes, solar panels are not worthwhile. "There are a lot of homes we have to disqualify because of shade," he said.

Each home's power usage is weighted against the area of the panels the home could sustain, and savings estimates are calculated. "It might be that we can offset 100 percent, or it might be that we can offset 25 percent of your electricity," Smith said. "There really is no 'one size fits all.'"

There are purchase and purchase vs. lease plans available, and the purchase options are eligible for a federal tax credit for 30-percent of the system's cost. The program also includes a state rebate of up to 35-percent of the system cost. There is also a $1,000 cash back incentive for the first 10 Glastonbury customers to sign contracts.

A given example showed a 7.5kw solar system costing $26,625 if purchased outright. Minus the $1,000 incentive, the state tax credit of $8,296 and federal credit of $5,499, that system would cost $11,830.

An example lease plan showed a customer's CL&P bill at $150 per month, and then being reduced to $40, with a 20-year lease payment of $75 per month, making a net difference of $35 less per month.

Smith said installation time is only about two to three days, but inspections and a CL&P meter replacement likely take longer. He added that Astrum also provides warrantees and service long after the installation.

"This is long-term partnership," he said.

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