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Norwalk mayor’s task force touts groundbreaking state program

Robert Hartt

Robert Hartt, managing member of Hartt Realty Advisors, talks Wednesday at an event sponsored by the Mayor’s Energy and Environmental Task Force at the Shore and Country Club.

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.

Solar canopy

The new solar canopy in the rear parking lot at 542 Westport Ave.

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.”

C-PACE Norwalk energy task force

Mayor Harry Rilling addresses attendees of a party-like event sponsored by the Mayor’s Energy and Environmental Task Force last week at the Shore and Country Club.

12 comments

One and Done. September 14, 2014 at 7:56 am

So a federal program that funds a state agency that needs local government to promote it….and a whopping 40 people show up, half of which are politicos.
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Projects that are worthy of financing would have commercial lenders lining up to make the loans. This is Finance 101.
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This tells you that this indeed is costing taxpayers money. They are just lying to us about where that cost comes from and doing a bad job of it. Solar is a good idea, but stop lying to people about the true costs right now. Instead be honest and say we are trying to launch these as viable alternatives and that is going to require funding from taxpayers. You might find people a little more interested.

rburnett September 14, 2014 at 10:15 am

O&D you were not even there to hear the details of this program. As usual you simply want to criticize people’s attempts to do good things. And an FYI; Most of those present were commercial business owners including many of your “politicals”.

Kathleen Montgomery September 14, 2014 at 11:50 am

“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.

Soooo…this is something that will help people who have money save more money? Why am I surprised.

Mike Mushak September 14, 2014 at 11:56 am

Thank you Mayor Rilling and the members of our Energy and Environmental Task Force. Great job! .
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Great article in the NY Times today about Germany now getting 30% of its energy from renewable sources like wind and solar, but not without growing pains of the huge shift away from fossil fuels.. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/science/earth/sun-and-wind-alter-german-landscape-leaving-utilities-behind.html
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The technology they are developing is described in the article as their “gift to the world.” Remember when America used to do that?
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Our “gift to the world” over the last decade was spending our treasury and young lives starting and then fighting an unwinnable religious tribal war in Irag which was the great Bush/Cheney Energy Plan. That entailed getting access to oil reserves by invading a middle eastern country that had NOTHING to do with 9/11 but they lied and said it did to sell the war, saying it will just take a few months and we will be welcomed with open arms, and cost less than a billion dollars and few American and Iragi lives.
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Oops. Two TRILLION dollars later, 7,000 American lives and 200,000 Iragi lives lost, and we are still fighting the war they started 11 years later, bankrupting America and pushing us further behind other developed countries on research and development, and investment in infrastructure, renewable energy, and education. Now there’s a real “inconvenient truth” for you! And just to be fair, Obama is just prolonging the inevitable at this point, which is a full scale religious war in the middle east that will go on for decades longer, fueled by countries swimming in our cash from our own needs for their oil, while we sit here arguing that wind and solar should not be subsidized by our government.
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Every taxpayer dollar spent on wind and solar now towards energy independence saves countless dollars we need to spend later on fighting wars or buying middle east oil or shipping home the bodies of our troops. Sounds like a good investment to me, and one fiscal conservatives and isolationists would fully back, if they only had the vision to see that far ahead. But then, that would mean supporting something Obama and liberals also support, and we just can’t have that no matter how smart it is, now can we?
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I just visited the Flight 93 (9/11) National Memorial in Shanksville, PA, in August, a very emotional and profound place. It was surrounded by a huge wind farm on the surrounding mountains, and I couldn’t help but think how those spinning turbines represented a future of peace and environmental sustainability, and a stark contrast to the terrorism that memorial site represented that was partially backed by oil profits from our own need for middle eastern oil (Osama bin Laden was a member of a wealthy Saudi oil business family, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bin_Laden_family . Our fossil fuel-based economy is clearly prolonging conflicts in the middle east, costing us lives and our future. Every solar panel and wind turbine is a symbol of hope, and peace. It is time America fully embrace renewable energy as Germany and many other countries are doing, no matter how hard the self-serving oil interests like the Koch brothers, Exxon, and the army of lobbyists in DC fight it.

Ray J September 14, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Article starts with “Crash Dummy” but there is no explanation as to why they used that term.

Another “parents whose children attend private schools are among the people who should be interested in C-PACE” …. Why? again too few details, sketchy … wish there was an attempt to explain the workings of the program.

The event, held outside on Norwalk’s waterfront, included **********free drinks****** and hors d’ouerves for guests.

No problem understanding that.

Mark Chapman September 14, 2014 at 7:27 pm

@Ray J
First 2 paragraphs after you click on the “read more” link:
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.

Also:
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.”

He is saying that the program can be recommended for private schools because they are in a position to be able to borrow money, get donations, etc., to cover initial expenses — another example, along with businesses.

One and Done. September 15, 2014 at 6:04 am

LOL Mushak. Germany’s economy is circling the drain right now. Guess what, outside of your birthday suit there isn’t one thing in your life not produced or manufactured that doesn’t have some component made by a machine that runs on oil. And guess what else, windmills won’t power a jet engine either.
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I guess we’ll see you on the green protesting Obama’s war any day now, right?
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Solar is just about here and the government should get the heck out of the way and let free enterprise run it. All this program is going to do is get us a bunch of people with inferior technology that will need to be replaced some day at a very costly price. Wait about five to ten years and the panels wattage yield to price will be economical.

One and Done. September 15, 2014 at 8:10 am

Germany’s economy in rapid recession due to government controlled and mandated conversion to ‘renewable’ energies.

http://www.tradingeconomics.com/germany/gdp-growth

The big problem with solar and wind right now is that we do not have the storage mechanisms that would make it more economical. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for cheap, clean energy. But, look at how we have put our economy in the tank here with the crony agribusinesses similarly. We are growing corn to make biofuels which create more pollution than so called fossil fuels and in the same turn drive up food prices. A massive conversion to wind and solar on the backs of taxpayers when the technology isn’t ready for this geography could well be the nail in our economic coffin.
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Please let free markets rule here, not ignorant government officials.

One and Done. September 15, 2014 at 1:23 pm

@Ryan. Don’t you know money is free? Malloy has a money tree and he just needs to pick from it to launch all these wonderful programs. Just look around at all the wonderful decisions and benefits brought to you and me by the wise sages that run our government and know everything there is to know about economics and power generation. We know their genius is not replaceable and we should fall in love with every scheme they throw our way because there are never any costs, just benefits.

Matt Lechner March 4, 2016 at 3:27 am

This comment and another by the same person on a 2014 story were not allowed because they contained potentially libelous material and violated ouur policy against name-calling.

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