Just after the New Year, residents received a letter in the mail from Wilton officials detailing a new, town-wide solar program designed to help single-family homeowners save money on energy bills. Signed by first selectman Lynne Vanderslice and Wilton Energy Commission co-chairs Richard Creeth and Debra Thompson-Van, the letter introduced the “Solarize Wilton” Program as “exciting,” and explained the discount pricing, financing and tax credit benefits.
The program will kick-off with an informational workshop on Tuesday, Jan. 12, from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Wilton Library. [Editor’s note: the letter included incorrect dates for the program, stating that the end date is May 18, 2015; in actuality, the program’s end date is May 18, 2016, when all contracts must be signed.]
At last night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Thompson-Van updated the selectmen before the program rolls out. She also clarified some points that some residents have raised questions about on social media, including those questioning the motives of town officials for endorsing only one vendor for the program.
According to Thompson-Van, Solarize Wilton is part of Solarize Connecticut, a state-sponsored residential program started in 2012, and spearheaded by Connecticut’s Green Bank in partnership with SmartPower. There have been 58 CT communities that have taken part to date, and the program has helped thousands of residents save money on energy bills through solar.
Solarize Wilton is a coordinated effort across the community, endorsed by the Board of Selectmen at a previous meeting, and supported by the Town of Wilton, the Wilton Energy Commission and Wilton Go Green. Through an RFP process, the Town selected Ross Solar Group as the one vendor to perform solar installations for residents who take part in Wilton’s program in exchange for providing town residents with special discount pricing.
In addition to discount pricing, the program also provides financing options that officials say offer residents the possibility of no upfront costs.
The negotiated pricing will be available to Wilton residents beginning Jan. 12 through May 18, 2016. According to Thompson-Van, residents will still be able to take advantage of federal tax credits and state rebates by scheduling installations through the end of the year.
Thompson-Van estimates that there are currently 22 residences in Wilton that have implemented solar energy systems “that we know of, because they have taken advantage of a rebate at the CT level.”
She said that Ross Solar Group estimates that a town of Wilton’s size could potentially add between 50-80 additional solar installations as a result of the program.
“We don’t have a quota. We have an objective, but we don’t have a quota. The discount that’s offered is based on the first person that signs up, and it doesn’t matter how many sign up.”
Addressing Questions Raised on Social Media
Thompson-Van said that some residents reacted to the letter by asking questions on social media. In fact there has been lengthy discussion in a post about the letter on the “Wilton CT Politics” Facebook page. Some commenters questioned how the vendor was selected and why there was only one chosen by the town. Others wondered whether the town was receiving any kickbacks from the chosen vendor.
Thompson-Van tried to dispel any concerns and skepticism.
“The RFP process was led by the state of Connecticut and the Smart Power organization, which is a non-profit. The RFP criteria was asking the vendors to respond in the following categories: pricing; experience in CT—both in previous programs as well as with customers they may have garnered outside of the programs; customer satisfaction; capacity to handle heavy workloads (up to 100 installations) in a timely manner; equipment options (the range of technology) and financing options.”
Nine vendors participated in the RFP process, and according to Thompson-Van, the town invited three of those vendors to make presentations. “Those three vendors were all notable and very good in their capability, and had any one of the three of them been the one we chose we would have been in a very good position,” she said, adding that the program is designed to have communities select just one provider.
With just one provider, she explained, “The primary benefit to the town is offer the residences a pre-negotiated, community-based pricing, that is a discount off of equipment and services they may not have access to if they were buying one residence at a time.”
The town selected Ross Solar Group as the official solar installer.
She added that even those vendors who were not chosen to be the “official” program provider will still benefit, simply because Wilton will be more educated from the program.
“As a result of running this program called Solarize Wilton, we expect other vendors will continue to sell into our community. But we did want to, for those that are cost sensitive, or would like to have better pricing options we did proceed with this program and have negotiated for this pricing to be available in Wilton,” Thompson-Van said.
Thompson-Van helped run Home Energy Solutions, a similar energy-saving incentive program in Wilton a few years ago, and she compared that program—which offered residents the choice of three different vendors—to Solarize Wilton, which only offers one single vendor option.
“The difference here is, 1) this was an official RFP, that was vetted by experts; 2) the results of it actually do give you a preferred pricing that would not have been available otherwise; and 3) no resident is required to use this solar vendor. This round of the program is different than any other round, that the price being offered is offered regardless of whether one resident or 100 residents take advantage of the program.”
As for concern about financial incentive kickbacks to the town from just one vendor, Thompson-Van said there are none. “No. There is no rebate, there is no kickback, there are no other financial incentives.” Participation in the program does help Wilton maintain its standing as one of only two recognized clean energy towns fully compliant with the state program.
Officials hope that residents will consider solar, whether or not they participate in Solarize Wilton.
“All in all, this is a good program. This is not a mandatory program, this is not a program that is forced upon any resident, but it is available. If the residents come, learn something, and they choose another vendor, that’s good and fine because at the end of the day the objective is to make this a cleaner, better world, and to help reduce the cost of operating your home.”
The event at the Library on Jan. 12 is the first of several outreach efforts the Energy Commission has planned; Thompson-Van mentioned others at the Wilton Family YMCA and with the Rotary Club.
“We believe it will be a broad-reaching community program, and we believe it will be a successful program,” she said.
A website specific to Solarize Wilton is available with additional information.