Cities unite for solar

WINDSOR — Four Upper Valley towns are uniting to promote solar installations ahead of a reduction in federal incentives.

“A few people have it (solar), but most people here aren’t familiar with it,” said Diane Foulds, who sits on Windsor’s unofficial energy committee. “…I want them to know that they still have a chance to get that high incentive.”

The 26% federal tax credit will decline to 22% in 2023, before dropping to zero in 2024. Unless renewed, home and business owners will have to wait longer to see a return on their investment in solar energy.

The Solarize 2022 campaign started as an idea at the Cornish Energy Committee. The city pledged to achieve a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050. Soon Windsor, Hartland and Plainfield joined us.

The collaboration made sense to Foulds — “we can almost look at each other across the river,” she said.

Six solar providers – Solaflect Energy, Catamount Solar, Same Sun of VT, SunCommon, Green Mountain Solar and Granite State Solar – are participating in the campaign. Solarize 2022 is free marketing for companies and in return they have committed to complete the projects by December 2022 so that customers who sign up through the campaign get the full tax incentive. Residents will also benefit from advice from their local energy committees.

Organizers of the Solarize 2022 campaign are asking residents to request a site visit from one or more of the businesses by March 31. Foulds pointed out that there is no penalty for taking out. She would help Windsor residents apply for funding, she said.

The businesses will pitch to residents at a virtual launch event on Saturday, February 26, from 3-5 p.m. Members of the energy committees will also be there to offer advice. And there will be at least 45 minutes for questions from residents, said Joanna Sharf, who chairs the Cornish Energy Committee.

In Cornwall, around 50 homes have solar photovoltaic panels, and one or two continue to install them each year, Sharf said.

“We try to give a realistic expectation,” she said. “I would be happy if we had 10 more houses fitted with solar panels in Cornish. I hope we can get more than that.

Delivering projects on schedule can be challenging due to labor and supply chain disruptions. Green Mountain Solar, based in South Burlington, has seen slower deliveries and shipments, particularly for batteries, said Jane Stromberg, the company’s outreach coordinator.

“We know it’s nobody’s fault. That’s how the world is right now,” she said. The company has been able to retain “really good talent” as it has remained busy with facilities throughout the pandemic, she added.

This will be the third “solarisation” campaign in Cornish. Sharf said people’s main concern is usually cost. All participating installers offer financing options.

And Sharf has seen rapid improvements in solar technologies. She first installed panels on her property in 2016 and added more in 2018. In just two years, the effectiveness of the panels has improved dramatically.

The cost of the panels themselves is coming down, said Phil Parrish, residential salesman at Catamount Solar in Randolph. This helped offset the reduction in net metering rates in the state of Vermont, he added.

In the meantime, Foulds does not expect incentives to stop the switch to renewables to diminish.

“Prices are falling and demand is increasing. And in fact, fossil fuels have no prayer,” she said. “…It will be market driven.”

The campaign will also give impetus to the new energy committee in Windsor. The Windsor Selectboard created the “Winsor Energy & Sustainability Committee” last year. Diane Foulds and Jennifer Freeman, another Windsor resident, have volunteered, but the committee needs one more resident to officially register.

To learn more about the campaign or register for the launch event, visit tinyurl.com/SOLARIZE-2022.

Claire Potter is a member of the Report for America body. She can be reached at cpotter@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

Edward N. Arrington