Installing solar panels on roofs in Amherst is about to get easier and more affordable with the launch of a new town program.

Participants in the "Solarize Amherst" campaign can expect to save 10 percent through discounted group rates the town negotiated with three installers: Solar by CIR, Solar Liberty and Frey Electric.

"The town is acting as a liaison between the installers and residents and commercial property owners to work together to set up their own contracts if they want to install solar," said Mike Delamere, the town's energy manager.

A kickoff event is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers at Town Hall, 5583 Main St., Williamsville, where residents may schedule a free solar evaluation, which includes a roof evaluation, preliminary site design, energy usage profile and financial analysis.

Workshops also will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. May 17 at the Harlem Road Community Center, 4255 Harlem Road, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 20 in the Clearfield Community Center, 730 Hopkins Road.

To encourage participation, the town is also waiving its $200 electrical permit fee for property owners who sign a contract with one of the three installers by June 5.  The program runs between May 9 and July 31.

A 4 to 5 kilowatt system is sufficient for most small residences and costs between $10,000 and $12,000, but that cost is cut by half after various rebates, Delamere said. Most homeowners can expect to recoup their upfront cost in four to five years, he said.

"Then after that it's all free electricity," he said. "The return on investment is about 4 to 5 years."

The roof-mounted photovoltaic panels degrade to about 80 percent efficiency after 20 years, Delamere said. An inverter in the basement to convert direct current to alternating current lasts between 10 to 15 years.

Installing a system can result in considerable savings for homeowners over the long term, he said.

"Any excess power that you produce actually reverses the electric meter," he said. "If you're producing more power than you're using, like on a sunny day in the summertime, you'll be reversing your electric meter so you get a credit for later on in the evening or different times in the year."

The solarize campaign is one of at least four initiatives the town's Clean Energy Communities Committee is completing for Amherst to become a Clean Energy Community, a program of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and become eligible for a $250,000 grant.

The Town Board on Monday will consider purchasing an electric vehicle for the town fleet. The town has also trained building inspectors to be qualified to review solar plans and do inspections of solar installations and is adopting a unified solar permit, which are standards from NYSERDA that municipalities should follow.

"The weather patterns are really changing so everybody's getting more interested in doing what they can to save the planet," Delamere said.

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