By Bill Kirk
---- — It’s official: Andover has gone solar.
Rick Sullivan, the state secretary of energy and environmental affairs, announced earlier this month that Andover is one of 15 so-called Solarize Massachusetts communities, allowing its residents and businesses to participate in a discount solar installation program.
Anil Navkal of Rock’O’Dundee Road attended the Dec. 2 ceremony in Amherst on behalf of Andover to hear the good news.
“The Green Advisory Board and the Solarize Andover Committee are delighted to announce we have been selected for participation in the program,” said Navkal, who may now adopt the official moniker of Solar Coach.
“This gives the town a unique opportunity for residents to participate in harvesting solar energy in an affordable package. The more people participate, the bigger the discount.
“The Solarize Andover team is committed to bringing this message to the entire community — both business owners and residents.”
Under the program, discounts for potentially costly solar installations, which usually run in the tens of thousands of dollars, will range from a low of 5 percent to a high of 25 percent. Combined with federal and state incentives along with energy credits, the cost of installations will be reduced significantly, decreasing the number of years it takes to pay off a rooftop or ground-based system of solar panels.
Ever the optimist, Navkal believes — and even has it on his new business cards — that the Solarize Andover Committee will sign up 100 new customers in 100 days thanks to the program.
“You only need 40 to get the full discount,” he said. “We will definitely get that discount. I think it’s possible we’ll get 200 installations. I’m very optimistic.”
Once Andover was designated a Solarize Massachusetts community, Navkal and his committee began accepting applications from potential solar installation companies. The deadline to apply was Dec. 12. Working with staff from the state’s Clean Energy Commission, Solarize Andover will cull through the applications as part of a competitive process and narrow the field of potential installers down to three finalists.
The three finalists will be interviewed Jan. 22, he said, and then one installer will be chosen. In order for residents or business owners to receive the maximum discount offered by the program, they need to use the installer chosen by Solarize Andover.
Any homeowner or business interested in finding out more about the program can go on solarizeandover.com to register their interest. The committee will also hold information sessions in January, describing the program in detail. People can fill out applications until the end of June, after which no more applications will be accepted.
Navkal said that in other communities, the program has worked very well, with extensive participation leading to customers getting the maximum discount available.
“The job for me is to educate people as honestly as possible,” he said, adding that he will even be approaching local banks to get their support in financing solar installations.
He said one of the benefits of the program is that the Solarize Andover Committee will be doing a lot of the advertising and outreach, saving the installation company time and money.
“The sales cycle is shorter,” he said. “The installer spends very little money marketing this.”
He said one of the intended goals of the program — to create a strong, grassroots support network for renewable energy — seems to be working quite well.
Navkal said he’s gotten calls of support from people inside as well as outside of town.
“People are coming out of the woodwork to help me,” he said.
For example, he said, Susan Stott of Andover Community Trust has expressed interest in installing solar panels on the affordable homes her organization has helped build around town.
Navkal also held a meeting with the superintendent of the Greater Lawrence Technical School in town about creating internships for teams of students to work with the town’s solar panel installer.
He also plans on encouraging local banks to come up with creative financing packages for people who want to install solar panels. And he was recently contacted by a North Andover business executive who can help do presentations to those banks about the value of investing in solar and other renewable energy projects.
In addition, he has employed two interns from Andover High School to help set up the website and do other work on the group’s successful application.
“There are multiple dimensions on this,” he said.
Sullivan said his office has seen that the program works.
“The popularity of Solarize Mass highlights the growing interest in renewable energy across the state,” the secretary said. “Programs like Solarize Mass allow people across Massachusetts to join the clean energy revolution right at their own homes and businesses, while creating local jobs here in the commonwealth.”
In addition to Andover, communities participating in the second round of the 2013 Solarize Mass program are Adams, Amherst, Bedford, Chesterfield, Egremont, Great Barrington, Lexington, Needham, Salem, Swampscott, Watertown, Wellfleet, Whately and Williamsburg. Great Barrington will be partnering with Egremont; Salem will be partnering with Swampscott; Lexington will be partnering with Bedford; and Williamsburg, Whately and Chesterfield will be working as a group during the program.