About 65 Newtown residents turned out Tuesday night at Reed Intermediate School for a presentation from organizers of the Solarize Connecticut program as organizers made their pitch for Newtown residents to convert to solar energy over the coming months. Newtown is the latest Connecticut town to be selected for the program, which hopes to create 100 new solar customers in town by February.
Representatives from CEFIA -- the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority -- said the Solarize Connecticut program has shown the state has unrecognized potential for a self-sustaining solar energy infrastructure.
"We have far more sunlight here than the country of Germany, which is the world's largest adopter of solar," said CEFIA representative Bob Wall. "Combine that with our high electricity rates, that means the payback for customers is wonderful."
The burning question for homeowners, of course: Does it really save money?
It's likely to pay for itself in about seven years, said AstrumSolar spokesperson Thom Smith. The company is the largest provider of solar power on the east coast and the company of choice for the Solarize Newtown campaign.
The seven-year return on investment assumes a homeowner bought the system outright (lowered by a state grant and a federal tax credit, which each cover about 30% of the system cost) rather than renting the panels, another option Smith said would also save money. A house with 41 owned solar panels, for example, could save up to $168 a month for installing a system at a price of about $17,000.
"That's a big system," he said. "But that would offset 100% of your electricity."
The state and federal incentives will only continue until Feb. 11, a move representatives said was designed to encourage residents to move quickly.
"Solar is the new granite countertop," Wall said. "This is something that really adds value to your homes, allows the owners to save significant money, and over time that money adds up to tens of thousands of dollars."
Newtown has already begun placing solar panels on a few buildings around town, including the water treatment plant, Reed Intermediate School and Newtown Middle School.
"Between all those projects, we're producing 320 kilowatts annually," she said. "That's significant."
In addition, Llodra said, Newtown already has about 40 homes using solar power. While the goal has been to double that number, the CEFIA team now believes they can add 100 more solar power users during the course of the program.
"Not only does this make good economic sense, it's good social policy," she said. "Not only do we have that obligation to be kind and gentle to mother earth, but we have an obligation to our children and grandchildren that the earth we leave them is stable."
Llodra told Patch she'd been interested in diversifying energy sources in Newtown for a long time.
"This is a unique opportunity for those who will install solar -- it increases value at no extra taxation," she said. "The bottom line is, it's right for us as consumers and it respects the planet. These are large moral and ethical commitments."
CEFIA is a quasi-public agency sponsored by the state and backed by Newtown. The organization designs and administers Solarize programs, provides incentives to customers, offers financing products for solar upgrades and conducts quality control of systems. The program has previously found success, Wall said, in towns like Westfield and Durham. Newtown joins 10 other communities in Phase 3 of Solarize Connecticut. Organizers say they expect the program to more than double the number of solar customers in selected towns and cities over the course of 20 weeks.
Solar panels can be installed on a homeowner's roof over the course of 2-3 days, Smith said. Representatives are available to meet with residents for questions. For more information, see Solarize CT's website.