East Lyme selectmen back program to promote solar panels

East Lyme - The Board of Selectmen on Wednesday unanimously approved a program that provides incentives to residents to install solar panels.

The 20-week Solarize Connecticut program offers tiered pricing for solar panels. The more residents that sign up to install panels, the lower the prices will be, Planning Director Gary Goeschel said. The solar-panel provider will offer different financing options and panels, so the exact price would depend on which a resident chooses. The provider also will offer the option of American-made panels.

"All in all, the price is going to be reduced, because we are buying in bulk," Goeschel said. Solarize Connecticut began in 2012 with four pilot towns, as an effort to encourage residential solar power and make it more affordable. Solar installations more than doubled in those towns during the pilot program compared to previous years, according to Wednesday's presentation.

Sixteen towns are currently participating or considering participating. First Selectman Paul Formica said many towns in other parts of the state have been participating, but very few have in southeastern Connecticut.

Selectwoman Holly Cheeseman said one of her concerns had been the potential for a safety risk in the event of a fire from a solar panel. She said the first selectman told her that the town's firefighters will be going through extensive training on solar panels, because of the solar field being installed by Greenskies LLC. She said she was reassured that firefighters would not be put at an additional risk.

Volunteers and the town will provide outreach. As a "grass-roots effort," the program also may look for current residents with solar panels to be advocates and help push the program forward, Goeschel said.

The program - which is run by the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, SmartPower, a clean energy marketing nonprofit, and the John Merck Fund of Boston - will begin in town later this spring, preceded by public information meetings.

The program is funded through a surcharge on utility bills and all panels are vetted through the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, according to the presentation.

k.drelich@theday.com

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