Staples High School has a reputation for producing some of the brightest students in the state, but now the school itself looks to a brighter future thanks to a 7-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system installed on the roof last week.

While the system would normally cost in excess of $30,000 -- the pricetag of a typical 5-kilowatt system -- the town didn't have to pay a dime. It was earned through the Connecticut Clean Energy Communities Program of the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund.

The town was qualified for the project because by last December 479 customers in town had enrolled in the CTCleanEnergyOptions program, as well as 29 local clean energy installations, earning Westport a total of 566 clean energy points -- one point for each customer and three points for each installation -- according to Bob Wall, director of energy market initiatives for CCEF.

Wall said both the town's Green Task Force and the students in Staples' Green Club have been instrumental in promoting clean energy in town and securing clean energy sign-ups under the CTCleanEnergyOptions program. Westport was the first town in the state to purchase clean energy, according to Wall, so eco-friendly initiatives are nothing new here.

In 2004, during First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell's administration, the town purchased green power for 100 percent of its energy use at Westport Town Hall for two weeks in January. Selectman Carl Leaman had pushed for it. In the January 4, 2004 edition of the Westport News, he noted the town was purchasing renewable energy certificates from EAD Environmental. They amounted to 25,000 kilowatts, which represented a two-week supply for Town Hall.

Around that time, the CTClean Energy Communities Program asked towns to make a commitment to use 20 percent clean energy by 2010. Many communities fell short of that threshold, though Bridgeport and Hartford did not, according to Wall. The latest target is 30 percent clean energy by 2015.

Wall said solar photovoltaic systems are becoming more affordable. He said they now cost "half of what they used to be when the program started in 2004."

The solar energy system at Staples includes a data-monitoring system that indicates how much electricity is generated as well as how much in emissions has been avoided.

Wall said homeowners who don't have a solar photovoltaic system should consider having one installed on their roof. Not only is it good for the environment, he said, but "if they decide to move, it adds a lot of value to the house."

Wall said every little bit helps in order to gain "energy independence" and "wean our reliance on foreign fossil fuels."

While the cost of such systems often can be significant compared to the initial monthly return on the investment, eventually the homeowner will not see a bill.

"It's kind of like paying an electric bill in advance," Wall said. "Over time the investment will be fully paid off, likely in eight to 12 years. From that point forward, the owner will be receiving free electricity."