By Bill Kirk
---- — ANDOVER — Solar projects are expected to explode in a big way in Andover next year with the announcement that the town has been named one of 15 new Solarize Massachusetts communities.
The designation, announced this month by Rick Sullivan, the state secretary of energy and environmental affairs, opens up residents and businesses to participation in a discount solar installation program.
Anil Navkal, who lives on Rock’O’Dundee Road, attended the Dec. 2 ceremony in Amherst on behalf of Andover to hear the good news.
“This gives the town a unique opportunity for residents to participate in harvesting solar energy in an affordable package,” said Navkal, who may now adopt the official moniker of Solar Coach. “The Solarize Andover team is committed to bringing this message to the entire community — both business owners and residents.”
Under the program, the more people who participate, the bigger the discount. 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, which has been working with the Green Advisory Board, 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.
Since the Solarize Andover Committee will be doing a lot of the advertising and outreach, it will save the installation company time and money, he said.
“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.