Bright Ideas: Solarize Somerville Helps Property Owners Make the Solar Switch

solarize somervilleRepresentatives from SolarFlair, the city and Mass. Clean Energy Center at a recent "Meet the Installer" Night.

Ever wondered about solar power but weren’t sure where to start? A new program called Solarize Somerville is shedding some light on the process. 

Solarize Somerville is a part of Solarize Mass, an annual collaboration between the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources that brings solar power to participating communities at a reduced cost.

“It helps community volunteers in municipalities organize the bulk purchasing systems for solar,” explains Christine Andrews, environmental housing programs coordinator in the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development. Cities and towns throughout the state can apply for the Solarize program, now in its fourth year. This year, Somerville was tapped as a solar community.

Working with the vendor SolarFlair, Solarize Somerville can offer a 20 percent decrease in cost for Somerville property owners who sign a contract through the program. That means those who own businesses and single family homes, but also those who live in multi-family homes as well as landlords and condo owners who are responsible for several units.

“This is a process that the city is actively working to streamline,” Andrews says, adding that part of the plan is to “break down the barriers” for landlords or property owners who might have questions about how the rules and regulations apply to them.

In fact, one of the hallmarks of the Solarize Mass program is its focus on outreach and community-based networking, which is why each participating municipality chooses a volunteer “solar coach” to get the word out. In Somerville, that’s Mary Mangan, a longtime resident who lives in a multi-family home and has solar power herself. (You can hear her giving the rundown on the Solarize program in the YouTube video below.)

“She’s just fabulous,” Andrews says of Mangan with a chuckle. “If you go to any farmers markets or other events this year, you’ll probably see her in a sun costume … I couldn’t think of a better champion.”

Mangan and the rest of the Solarize Somerville crew are organizing events to answer your burning questions about solar power. Earlier this month they held an informational meeting about ROI and strategies for saving with solar; on September 8, there will be a networking event for business owners who are interested in pursuing solar solutions on their commercial property at Daddy Jones in Magoun Square. Mangan has started a blog where she posts information and updates. The goal is to get as many people informed and on board by the time the program wraps up on November 18.

And Andrews is happy to report that the outcome looks sunny. As of August 30, just six weeks into the initiative, 26 residents had signed contracts through Solarize Somerville. Combined, their systems will produce 145.6 kW of energy.

Solarize Somerville is just one of a number of different energy-conscious solar initiatives in the city. Somerville was recently one of a small number of communities to join SolSmart, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative that’s working to promote solar development at the local level by making it more affordable and accessible. Andrews says that SunShot has helped reduce the cost of solar by 70 percent over the last six years. And even city buildings are making the solar switch; the Capuano Early Childhood Center, the Argenziano School and the Somerville High School all use solar power.

It’s all part of the city’s NetZero goal, which aims to make Somerville carbon neutral by 2050.

“Solar doesn’t stop with the Solarize program,” Andrews says.