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SOLARIZING the UPPER VALLEY

By Sarah Simonds

Communities and solar installers across the Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire are teaming up with local non-profit Vital Communities to help Upper Valley residents go solar.

Solarize Upper Valley is a new program designed to make residential solar photovoltaic (PV) systems more accessible and affordable. The concept is simple: community-driven outreach will help lower customer acquisition costs for participating installers, who will then transfer those savings on to customers. The goal: at least double the amount of solar in each participating community and strengthen the market for solar PV across the Upper Valley region.

Community energy leaders gathered in November to at the Montshire Museum to learn about becoming ‘Solarize’ communities this spring. Photo credit: Emily Gardner, Vital Communities

Community energy leaders gathered in November to at the Montshire Museum to learn about becoming ‘Solarize’ communities this spring. Photo credit: Emily Gardner, Vital Communities

Each round of Solarize Upper Valley will feature a 15-week outreach campaign, with the first launching in mid-March 2014. Solarize outreach efforts will be led by teams of community volunteers, called Solar Ambassadors, with support from Vital Communities staff. The first group of Solarize communities will be announced in January.

Solarize Upper Valley is designed to address several common barriers to going solar.

Going it alone in the solar market can be a complex and uncertain experience for customers. To help address this, Solarize communities will each carefully select a partner solar installer and, with the help of Vital Communities and an independent technical advisor, vet the technology and pricing to be offered throughout the Solarize campaign. The first round of Solarize communities will accept bids from installers through mid-February, primarily from installers based right here in the Upper Valley.

Customers want to hear from people they trust, so in addition to clear support from community leadership, Solarize Upper Valley relies on neighbors talking to neighbors about solar. Installers will be asked to offer a tiered pricing structure for residents in the Solarize communities. As more residents sign up to go solar, the price goes down for everyone. Talk about incentive to spread the word!

Sometimes it takes a deadline to move people to action. Each Solarize campaign will have a clear deadline for residents wishing to install a solar PV system through this unique opportunity.

Vital Communities will work closely with the Solarize communities and their partner installers to design and implement effective outreach campaigns to engage residents, especially those who may never have previously considered solar as an option.

Solarize Upper Valley is not the first program of its kind. Vital Communities is working with partners in Connecticut to learn from the success of the Solarize Connecticut program and adapt the basic Solarize structure to suit the Upper Valley. More information about Connecticut’s program can be found online at www.solarizect.com.

Solarize program leaders in Connecticut are beginning to see trends in local solar markets that extend beyond the immediate scope of the program. Preliminary numbers suggest that rates of solar adoption in and around Solarize communities remain elevated even after the end of the Solarize campaigns, indicating potential for broader positive impact on local solar markets.

Support for Solarize Upper Valley is provided by the John Merck Fund, which has helped develop similar programs in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and hopes to see iterations of the Solarize model applied throughout New England.

Stay tuned for more about Solarize Upper Valley as the first round of Solarize communities launches into action this spring. Learn more and check for program updates online at www.vitalcommunities.org/solarize  or contact Vital Communities’ Energy Program Manager, Sarah Simonds (sarah@vitalcommunities.org).

Vital Communities plans to organize four rounds of Solarize Upper Valley over the next two years – so there is still time for Upper Valley residents to reach out to their local energy committees and community leaders about becoming a Solarize community.

 

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