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Solar power installations hit record in Mass.

Walter Cowham of Quincy has installed two solar panel systems at his home since 2010.

Tamir Kalifa for The Boston Globe/File 2012

Walter Cowham of Quincy has installed two solar panel systems at his home since 2010.

Massachusetts recorded its largest number of new solar power installations in 2012, as hundreds of homeowners and large institutions and businesses, such as schools and big box stores, took advantage of government-backed incentives for renewable resources.

The surge in installations more than doubled the amount of solar power in Massachusetts to 194 megawatts — enough to power around 30,000 homes, according to the state Department of Energy Resources. Moreover, with a number of projects already scheduled for installation this year, Massachusetts is likely to achieve its goal of having 250 megawatts of solar generating capacity well before a 2017 deadline.

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“We are pretty hot on solar,” said Richard K. Sullivan Jr., the state’s energy and environmental affairs secretary. “I won’t even use one of my favorite phrases, ‘cautiously optimistic.’ We will hit our goal.”

Sullivan and solar industry representatives credited the installation boom to policies by the Patrick administration to promote alternative energy, including pressing utilities to get 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. These policies have spawned such programs as Solarize Massachusetts, which encourages businesses and communities to join buying groups to save on bulk purchases of solar panels, and Commonwealth Solar, which offers rebates for projects.

“It’s very clear that the state has shown consistent, proactive leadership on this issue,” said Carrie Cullen Hitt, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association. “That itself instills confidence.”

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Falling prices for solar panels have also helped, said Mike Hall, chief executive of Borrego Solar Systems Inc., a solar development firm with offices in California and Boston. In the last decade, prices have fallen by more than 60 percent, Hall said, to under $3 a watt, from $9 a watt.

“You combine the Massachusetts policies with the falling prices, and you get rapid growth,” Hall said.

Even as he expects the solar business in Massachusetts to remain brisk in the coming months, Hall said Massachusetts officials must continue to stimulate demand or risk losing the businesses and jobs that the industry provides to other states.

“If the state wants to continue to have an industry,” Hall said, “they need to start thinking now about what happens next.”

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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