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Vermont group kicks off 'solar communities' plan

By John Curran
Associated Press Writer / September 23, 2010

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WILLISTON, Vt.—Hoping to make it easier for homeowners to get their electricity from the sun, a Vermont consumer group announced plans Thursday for a "solar communities" program under which it will partner with solar panel manufacturers and installers to offer discounts on installations.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group program, which will start in Williston, St. George, Waterbury, Duxbury and Moretown before moving to other towns, will bundle incentives offered by government and by private companies and offer the price breaks by organizing clusters of interested consumers, reducing the installers' costs in traveling around to erect rooftop solar panels and lawn arrays.

"We've heard time and time again that our neighbors want to get their energy from renewable sources," said Duane Peterson, president of VPIRG's board. "It's hard for most people to figure out on their own: how to pick the right installer, choose the equipment, arrange financing and secure permitting. So we wanted to help."

Under the program, VPIRG will link consumers who are interested with companies Alteris Renewables and AllEarth Renewables, with whom the consumer group has negotiated discounts. The nonprofit VPIRG, in turn, will share in proceeds from sales to cover its expenses.

Accounting for government incentives, a premium offered by Green Mountain Power Corp. and an initial deposit, the cost of paying off the cost of solar panels on a home could be as low as $85 a month for 10 years, as compared with a typical $66-a-month electric bill, Peterson said.

Waterbury and Williston were chosen for the four-month startup because those communities have high concentrations of VPIRG members.

Representatives of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, of Waterbury, which has offered $1,000 incentives to employees who buy solar equipment for their homes, and the nonprofit Revitalizing Waterbury voiced their support for the program at a news conference held outside the home of a Williston woman who already has solar panels on her roof.

"This initiative is really a great opportunity to expand the go solar movement that's already taken off in our community," said Jeanne Kirby, executive director of Revitalizing Waterbury.

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