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Branford, Connecticut Expanding Solar Through Installations and Incentives

| By Zack Loehle, Interstate Renewable Energy Council

The small beachside town of Branford, Connecticut has embraced solar power as a way of ensuring energy savings and meeting the town’s sustainability goals. Thanks to an exciting mix of existing and planned installations, state-based incentive programs, and careful planning, solar panels are going up at a quick pace in Branford.

Branford was designated SolSmart Bronze in 2020 and SolSmart Silver this year. In order to level up, the community further trained their permitting and inspection staff in solar best practices, adopted a number of solar-friendly zoning changes, and increased the online resources available to the public about solar energy. These efforts are in addition to a number of local initiatives underway to install and incentivize solar energy.

One of the foremost ways Branford has deployed solar energy appears in—or rather, on—the city’s municipal facilities. That includes school buildings (two schools already have rooftop solar installed, and there are plans to add solar to others), and plans to remodel the police station include solar panels. The town’s wastewater treatment plant is running on solar power from a 4.3 acre solar farm nearby. And this year, the town secured a virtual power plant agreement that brings renewable energy from a solar farm into eight municipal buildings.

Especially exciting is the town’s Cosgrove Animal Shelter, which aims to become “the first net- zero animal shelter in the country,” said Greg Ames, a member of the Branford Clean Energy Committee. Already built and renovated with a strong emphasis on energy efficiency and solar hot water equipment, the shelter will soon host a new solar installation on its rooftop.

Solar is also going up on the rooftops of Branford’s homes and apartments. The town has utilized several state incentive and outreach programs to increase the amount of residential solar energy. That includes the Solar for All program in partnership with PosiGen, which in its first phase offered solar panel installations at low rates and for people with low credit scores, opening up access to a wider audience. The Solar for All incentives apply to large commercial and residential landlords as well as homeowners, a group the town is looking to engage with the program in the near future. “If landlords use some of that rebate money for batteries or for solar, the renters have to benefit as well, and it’s a 50/50 split between the landlords and the renters,” said Eunice Mahler, also a member of Branford’s Clean Energy committee.

Data on solar installation permits shows an upward trend over the past few years, with approximately 10% of households receiving energy from residential solar panels. Furthermore, the Branford Clean Energy Committee’s continued outreach is making a big difference in educating community members about the possibilities of solar, energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric heat pumps.

Looking forward, Branford has a goal of 100% renewable-sourced electricity by 2040, and has also applied for a grant to work with the nearby town of East Haven to further expand the business energy efficiency and the HeatSmart programs. The Clean Energy Committee looks to SolSmart as a recognition of solar progress, but, more importantly, as a guide to making meaningful changes in the town. “SolSmart gives us a path forward to keep on making things better for Branford residents if they decide to go with solar,” Mahler said. 

Any city, county, or regional organization across the U.S. can achieve SolSmart designation. To get started, contact us here and begin your own path toward a cleaner energy future.