Residents of Westport may have yet another reason to enjoy sunny days.

The state's Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, SmartPower and the John Merck Fund recently chose the town to participate in Solarize Connecticut, a pilot program designed to encourage homeowners to use solar power. The initiative, modeled after a Massachusetts program and similar to plans in Oregon and Arizona, offers increasingly lower costs for photovoltaic installations as more homeowners participate through selected suppliers.

"This is to bear proof to the markets that aggregating customer demand for residential PV installation will result in real cost savings," authority spokesman David Goldberg said.

It also provides education, marketing and outreach through SmartPower, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit marketer of clean energy.

The towns of Fairfield, Durham and Portland were selected for the program, as well, according to a news release from the state agency.

They were chosen out of 10 municipalities that applied based on proposals showing a high level of commitment to the program as well as creativity in execution, Goldberg said.

"They showed they had a really well-thought-out plan," he said.

The program has already received a significant amount of interest from residents, who appreciate the benefits of solar power, but are concerned with installation costs, said David Mann, chairman of the Westport Green Task Force.

"This is a way to reduce those up-front costs," he said.

Residents may take advantage of the Westport Home Energy Challenge, which offers assessment of a home's energy needs at a subsidized cost of $75, before participating in the state program, Mann said.

"This is a good opportunity for Westporters to take that next step," he said.

One or two suppliers per town out of about 70 eligible firms meeting certain criteria, including ability to offer pricing based on the number of homeowner participants, were slated to be chosen Thursday, July 26, Goldberg said. Each supplier can apply to do business through the program in all four towns, but will be limited to just two of them.

Applications will be made available to homeowners once the program, funded in part by the John Merck Fund, a Boston clean-energy advocate, selects the suppliers, he said. Homeowners receiving rebates on solar systems through the state's Residential Solar Investment Program will also be eligible to participate in Solarize Connecticut.

"It'll be announced in a very clear manner on how to participate once that's ready to go," he said, emphasizing that the number of homeowners will determine the cost reduction. "Interested homeowners should stay tuned."

Homeowners will be offered a variety of participation plans, including direct ownership and leasing.

Workshops will take place in August, September and through the fall at various locations in Westport to inform residents of the program, Mann said. Residents will have until Dec. 14 to apply for participation, he said.

Four more communities are expected to be selected early next year in a second phase of the program, which may expand depending on success, Goldberg said.

"Our expectation is we will receive even a larger number of applicants in the second phase, because I think others will recognize the value of this program," he said.

Contact Pipa Bell Ader of Westport Home Energy Challenge at bellader@gmail.com or 203-293-6320 or visit www.ctcleanenergy.com/solarizect for information.

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