NORWALK, Conn. – Bob Hartt is singing the virtues of being a “crash dummy” for the state in Norwalk.
“The bottom line is this is free money and it makes sense to take advantage of it,” Hartt said to a crowd of up to 40 people Wednesday at the Shore and Country Club in an event sponsored by the Mayor’s Energy and Environmental Task Force.
Hartt was talking about Connecticut’s Commercial & Industrial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program, which had a debut of sorts in April 2013 when Gov. Dannel Malloy visited the shopping plaza at 542 Westport Ave. to highlight the energy-saving projects made possible by financing through the nation’s first green bank – the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA) – which administers C-PACE.
Hartt, managing member of Hartt Realty Advisors, said he heard about the program while developing a project for the plaza, owned by Margaret and Michael Sarno of Weston.
“I say that we were CEFIA’s crash test dummy. We were the first ones to do it,” Hartt said.
Hartt’s account is being used to spread the word to potential PACE beneficiaries, even in New Jersey, as he is being quoted about the savings made possible through the program: The monthly electric bill at the 1970’s-era shopping plaza dropped from $4,000 to $1,200 just through the initial improvements. Those included a $340,000 lighting upgrade, a switch to LED lights in the parking lot.
The Sarnos are very progressive, and wanted to create a demonstration project, Hartt said. So they also put up a $500,000 solar canopy in their back parking lot, which is expected to shave another 25 percent off the electric bill, making it 5 percent of its original outlay, he said.
Genevieve Sherman of CEFIA said it was a capital investment of $700,000, of which the owners put in $100,000 and “made sure to use all of the utility incentives and financing they could.” CEFIA’s green bank, which is accrued through a surcharge to Connecticut Light and Power customers, financed $.5 million at a low interest rate. There was no money down, and the money is repaid through a long-term tax assessment, she said.
In other words, it pays for itself. The money saved is greater than the payment made to the state to repay the loan.
Hartt described the process as “rigorous but not difficult.”
“In my experience it’s justified,” he said.
Sherman said churches and multi-family buildings can be improved through C-PACE, as well as large industrial projects. As an example, she cited the large office building at 855 Main St. in Bridgeport, the former Southern Connecticut Gas Headquarters. A $2.5 million upgrade of the 112,000 square foot building included replacing all the windows, with $1.9 million financed through C-PACE at an interest rate of 5.5 percent for 20 years. The annual C-PACE assessment is $166,563 and the energy savings are $241,900. Lifetime energy savings are expected to be $6 million, she said.
Also singing the virtues of C-PACE, a first-in-the-nation program, was Timothy Crader of Northeast Utilities. You can do everything from HVAC to lights to controls, he said.
“If you take a more comprehensive view of your building, you’ll have the biggest impact, the biggest bang of your budget if you do a comprehensive approach,” Crader said. “However, we do also offer prescriptive measures if you only want to do single lights, or, if you only want to change an HVAC system or a compressor, we have a very simple form, prescriptive in nature, and we can provide rebates for that as well.”
The event, held outside on Norwalk’s waterfront, included free drinks and hors d’ouerves for guests. Sherman asked how many owned commercial property; perhaps five people raised their hands.
One of them was Carol Gavrielidis. Work on the East Side Café will be done soon, she said, but her family is looking to renovate the fire-damaged structure on the corner of First Street and Seaview Avenue “soon,” she said.
“We were thinking about C-PACE, but we’re in the Third Taxing District, so is there a savings? There might not be, they have to look at the numbers,” she said.
Sherman said parents whose children attend private schools are among the people who should be interested in C-PACE.
“You all should be able to borrow money cheaply to do things like build a solar covered carport in your parking lot, to switch to natural gas and so on and so forth,” she said. “That’s the mission of the green bank.”
Councilman John Kydes (D-District C), the task force chairman, released a statement after the event.
“There were 60 commercial property owners in attendance and the feedback from the crowd in regards to the C-PACE program was positive,” Kydes wrote. “Commercial property owners should use the C-PACE program to finance any improvements that will help them reduce their energy costs. Several attendees have already reached out for their specific energy improvement projects.”
“C-PACE has been a notable success in deploying clean energy throughout the state,” a press release sent by Kydes said. “Eighty Connecticut municipalities, together accounting for 83 percent of the state’s commercial and industrial building stock, have signed onto the program. Since launching C-PACE, the Green Bank has approved over 50 projects totaling over $40 million. The Green Bank has used its balance sheet to finance these transactions and then sold the transactions in bundles of roughly $10 million to a private capital provider. This has resulted in the deployment of 3.7 MW of clean energy and will lead to an estimated 160 million kWh in electric savings and over 320 million MMBTU in fuel savings over the lifetime of the projects. Total savings in avoided electric and fuel costs will exceed $38 million in aggregate for the benefited property owners.”