SOMERS, N.Y. - With a deadline looming, advocates for solar energy issued an urgent "last call" this week to any homeowners looking to obtain these rooftop systems at rock-bottom prices.
By early last week, in the closing days of a campaign that began in late October, organizers had already enlisted 59 homeowners and small businesses in Somers, New Castle and surrounding communities. The current push and its discounts end on Monday, March 7.
“We’re thrilled,” said Denise Schirmer, secretary of Solarize Somers-New Castle, the all-volunteer committee that worked with elected officials in the two towns to spearhead this alternative-energy drive. The local effort is part of an ongoing, countywide campaign sponsored by Sustainable Westchester, a coalition of local governments motivated by environmental concerns.
By signing up so many customers, surpassing its own expectations, the local committee drove down the cost of residents’ solar installations to the lowest of three potential price points, which vary depending on the system’s size. A handful more sign-ups, running the total to at least 75, would also provide a free 5-kilowatt system for town-government use.
Along the way, Schirmer suggested, the campaign demonstrated that “people are really interested” in solar as an alternative energy source. “It’s nice to know that so many people in the community are interested in installing solar,” she said.
Going into the campaign’s final full week, Solarize Somers-New Castle already had signed 30 contracts in Somers and nearby communities and 29 in New Castle, which includes Chappaqua and other hamlets, as well as places like Peekskill and Pleasantville.
Schirmer said her committee fully expected to see a lot more in a last-minute rush to sign up. “People wait for the tail end and you get this big surge,” she said.
Homeowners interested in the solar program and its potential savings can talk with Schirmer at 914-277-5582 (firstname.lastname@example.org). “They can call up until the end of the business day on Monday, March 7,” Schirmer said.
While town hall is closed on weekends, Direct Energy Solar (Middletown) has been fielding inquiries 24/7.
“Our local solar consultants will be working around the clock, including weekends, to make sure all residents interested in the Solarize program can have their homes’ solar potential assessed and see a personalized proposal should their home qualify,” said Dana Bye, Direct Energy’s community programs specialist. “Our call center [800-903-6130] is open evenings and weekends and folks who reach us by phone should be sure to mention the Solarize Somers-New Castle program.”
Both Direct Energy and a second solar supplier for small-business installations, Best Energy Power (Valley Stream; 516-596-8811), were chosen after vetting by the Somers-New Castle Solarize committee.
After a homeowner calls Direct Energy for an appointment, a representative will perform an assessment and review any system’s likely cost, financing options and savings potential.
Going into the campaign in October, Solarize Somers estimated that only about one home in five would meet installation requirements, failing such things as a minimum daily sunlight standard, and that only perhaps 50 homes would sign contracts. In practice, however, homes in the Somers-New Castle venture have proved better than the forecasts.
“Of folks who signed up for a solar assessment,” Bye said, “more than 60 percent were determined to have a solar-suitable site.” And 20 percent of those homeowners ultimately chose to install the solar panels.
Once seen as an exotic energy source, solar demonstrated its utility in small-scale, everyday tests decades ago, powering pocket computers.
“As more residents learn about solar and how it can truly help them save on their utility bills,” Bye said, “accessing this alternative energy resource seems much more feasible.”
In today’s incarnation, up on a roof, solar-panel technology takes sunshine and converts it to 120-volt alternating current, the same AC delivered, for instance, over power lines by New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) and other utilities. The “homegrown” electricity reduces energy costs either by meeting some of a customer’s power needs or by flowing the “other way”—back to NYSEG—for credit on the monthly utility bill.