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Posted on: November 26 2012 Tags:  southwick zoo,    solarize mass,    massachusetts,  

MEDWAY — A number of local businesses - including Southwick's Zoo - took advantage of the town's participation in the Solarize Massachusetts program, which ended earlier this month.

The systems contracted through the program will add 5.1 megawatts of generating capacity, including the zoo's 11.5 kilowatt system. The program offered savings to homeowners and businesses in 17 cities and towns which had done work to encourage alternative energy use.

Betsey Brewer, the curator of conservation and education at the zoo, said installing such a system had long been a goal.

"We've always been interested in any conservation effort, especially solar," she said. "We've been talking about solar for years.

Brewer said the organizers of Mendon's Solarize program had approached the zoo shortly after the town was made part of the effort.

"We're hoping to get it installed sometime before we open in April," she said.

Brewer said the zoo hopes that its patrons next season will note the new system.

"Absolutely," she said. "We really want to promote good environmental practices. Part of our mission here is conservation."

According to Mendon Community Solar Coach Carolyn Barthel, a total of 22 contracts were signed in town for 170.8 kilowatts. The town reached the fourth of five tiers of savings. The tiers are determined by the community's level of participation.

State Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan praised the program.

"The response to Solarize Mass this year was incredible," he said. "Together with industry, government and the community at the table, this program helped hundreds of residents and businesses across the commonwealth generate reliable, local sources of energy, while saving money in the process."

Matt Kakley, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said those at the center, which administered the program, are pleased with the results.

"We're very excited about the numbers," he said. "We had a pilot program in 2011, and this year is the first that we've had the full program."

According to Kakley, the pilot program consisted of four member communities, and created 829 kilowatts worth of generating capacity.

Kakley said the center is looking forward to another Solarize campaign.

"I know, right now, we're talking with installers and other people involved with the program to see what works and what needs to improve," he said. "Everyone is pretty confident that there will be a program next year."

Elizabeth Kennedy, with the Clean Energy Center, said it would be hard to tell what the next iteration of the program would look like.

"We know the current model has been a tremendous success - it saves money and increases adoption of solar power," she said. "Each of the communities participating in the program more than doubled their residential system capacity."