On Saturday, March 5, a crowd of over one hundred eager Saugertiesians gathered at the Frank D. Greco Recreation Center for an event hosted by the organization, Solarize Saugerties, the newest in a series of campaigns run by Solarize Hudson Valley. Solarize, which offers discounts to groups of community members — the more people who purchase solar panels, the cheaper it becomes for each person — has also taken root in Massachusetts and Connecticut, doubling the amount of solar energy used in many communities.
Solarize Hudson Valley has thus far hosted events in cities and towns including Albany, Troy, Woodstock, Rosendale, Kingston, Goshen, and Warwick. It is led by Sustainable Hudson Valley, an organization dedicated to responding to climate change by bolstering communities with eco-friendly energy solutions and education, and Catskill Mountainkeeper, which seeks to protect the Catskill Mountain region from environmental harm and destructive practices such as fracking. Solarize Hudson Valley is a three-year program mainly funded by Governor Cuomo’s NY-Sun Initiative, which has pledged to invest up to $1 billion in New York’s solar energy industry until 2023.
According to Melissa Everett, executive director of Sustainable Hudson Valley and presenter at the Solarize Saugerties event on Saturday, Solarize is dedicated to “reducing the cost for installers,” which in turn “makes it easier for the customer.” Solarize Hudson Valley offers two solar panel installation options for residential locations: Direct Energy Solar and New York State Solar Farm. There is also an option for commercial installations, such as small businesses: Lighthouse Solar.
Despite the reputation that acquiring and using solar panels can be abstruse and intimidating to the average consumer, Solarize Hudson Valley has sought a way to make the process and upkeep of solar energy user-friendly and straightforward. Its partner installers, Direct Energy Solar, New York State Solar Farm, and Lighthouse Solar, offer warranties and guarantees on workmanship and quality that streamline the process, eliminating many of the worries that potential customers have.
Even as the Solarize project picks up steam, event attendance varies greatly from town to town. Everett, who has attended and spoken at numerous Solarize meetings, identified the Saugerties crowd as “a strong one. People came who really wanted to learn about it.” The event was structured in a way that allowed for maximum information to be conveyed, while leaving room for questions. A slideshow was presented, describing the Solarize project and how it could work for the community, followed by a Q&A period in which audience members voiced their questions and concerns to the Solarize team, as well as individual solar providers. After the formal presentation was finished, the audience moved to tables manned by Direct Energy Solar, New York State Solar Farm, and Lighthouse Solar, to ask more specific, one-on-one questions.
Though the use of solar energy has a long way to go before becoming mainstream, Solarize Hudson Valley is seeking to move the Catskill Mountain region in the its direction. According to Everett, Solarize negotiated one hundred eighty-three signed contracts in 2015, and judging by the turnout in Saugerties alone, can expect more in the coming years. Already, future events in Ulster County are in the works — there are whispers of Solarize coming to the Town of Olive in the near future.
Additional Solarize Saugerties events will be held over the coming months. The next meeting will take place on March 19 at New World Home Cooking, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.