By Todd Gutner, WBZ-TV Chief Meteorologist

WINCHESTER (CBS) – With most of us still reeling from the cost of heating our homes last winter and paying to run the air conditioning now, how does solar power sound? The town of Winchester is one of just four Mass. communities involved in a new program that makes solar affordable.

The program is called “Solarize Mass.” A pilot program right now, it’s all about getting enough people on board, so the price comes down. On a hot and sunny July day, an installer from Alteris Renewables climbs around on the roof of a Winchester home, checking to see how much sunlight it gets, and whether it’s a good candidate for solar panels. About 300 Winchester homeowners have signed up to have their houses assessed in this way.

One of the roadblocks to expanding solar energy has been the high equipment costs. But Solarize Mass, which is a state project that works with local environmental groups, brings those costs down significantly.

WBZ-TV’s Todd Gutner reports

“The benefit to the Winchester residents is that there’s a concentrated effort,” says Jim Oliva from Alteris. By getting a lot of people interested, there are economies of scale and group purchasing power.

“Our cost of operating our business is at a reduced level and we’re able to pass those savings on,” says Oliva.

Off the bat it’s a 15% discount because of the number of people expected to go solar. If interest continues to grow in a town, prices could drop more, and people who bought systems early would get rebates.

“If this hadn’t been happening, I never would have even considered solar investment at this time,” says Winchester resident Phil Coonley. He’s decided to purchase a solar system. “For my family it will supply two-thirds of the electricity,” he says. But that’s not all. If he’s away or doesn’t use much power, his electric meter will actually run backwards. “They would give me a big credit I could carry forward to future months,” says Coonley.

Todd Gutner interviews Carolyn Starrett of Sustainable Winchester

Several rebates and tax credits will lower upfront costs even more, and there’s a system that pays the homeowners for every 1000 kilowatts they produce. “I can look at the meter every week and say, wow, this is really working. The sun is really producing my energy,” says Coonley.

The cost for a solar system for an average home is about $30,000, which is crazy for most people, but with the Solarize Mass discount, rebates and tax credits, that cost comes down to about $13,000. Still hefty, but installers say most homeowners recoup their investments in four to five years.

The other towns involved in the pilot program are Scituate, Harvard and Hatfield. If it works well in those communities, it could expand.

  1. Shawn Reeves says:

    Editors, please replace “kilowatts” with “kilowatt-hours” in paragraph 8. This is a very common error among journalists but leads the public to confusion.
    Kilowatts are a unit of power, a rate of energy transfer, and kilowatt-hours are a unit of energy, the measure proportional to our utility bill.

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