The Jewish Community Center celebrated the completion of its solar car ports with a ribbon cutting July 16, the biggest project of its kind so far in Connecticut. With financing from the state Green Bank, the JCC installed canopies carrying solar panels over parts of its two parking lots, capturing not only energy from the sun, but creating shade and some protection for the vehicles parked underneath. “This is a terrific opportunity for us, the community and the environment,” said Bob Felice of the Jewish Federation.
According to a press release, the project is designed to reduce by 60% the energy usage for the 100,000-square-foot building from the current 1.8 million kilowatt hours to 880,000.
The Green Bank was created by the Legislature in 2011 to help make clean energy an easy choice for owners of commercial and municipal buildings, as well as, in this case, a non-profit. “Financing is a key to getting renewables of scale,” said Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Klee at the ribbon cutting. Some 10,000 homes have added solar panels with financing help from the Green Bank so far.
“We’re making CT a leader on many energy and environmental issues, including addressing the challenges that we face on climate change,” Klee said. The state is now ranked sixth in the nation in terms of energy efficiency, enough to forego construction of a new power plant, he said.
First Selectman Ellen Scalettar said the town signed onto the C-PACE program, which provides clean energy funding to commercial property owners, and the JCC solar carport is the first local project made possible through this cooperation. “We hope that other businesses will be inspired,” she said.
The installation of the canopies started back in January, and finished in June. The general contractor was Bullrock – Deutsche Eco Solar. The solar panels are made of German technology, manufactured in Korea and purchased in the United States, said Daniel Prokopy of Deutsch Eco.
Speakers at the ribbon cutting credited Scott Cohen, chief financial officer of the JCC, with seeing this project to its successful completion. Cohen said cost savings and cost predictability were two driving incentives, but more so “our contribution to repair the world,” he said.
“It takes all of us working together to make projects like this happen,” said Bryan Garcia of the Connecticut Green Bank. And, with a nod to Woodbridge, he added, “You are a clean-energy community. Your support of C-PACE means that your community-based organizations, multi-family homes, commercial and industrial properties all have access to capital and to support clean energy improvements on those properties.”
Beecher Road School
The Green Bank is also providing funding for solar panels on the new roof at Beecher Road School. The project is not part of the current renovations, but an outgrowth of it.
Some 900 solar panels will be placed on the roof this summer, with an anticipated completion this fall, said Woodbridge Supt. Dr. Guy Stella. On days when the school does not need much energy, such as on weekends, the electricity will feed back into the grid. On days that they need to draw energy from the utility, the town can purchase that electricity at a lower rate.
In addition to the planned solar array, a micro-turbine has been installed on the roof. It runs off natural gas and produces electricity and waste heat, which will be recaptured to support heating the building and the pool.
For the school, the micro-turbine is not only a money saver but also a back-up during power outages. It is connected to and backs up a generator to run emergency lighting and minimal heat in the building when the electric service fails.
The town is also looking to put a ground-mounted solar array on its capped former landfill, and Bullrock-Deutsche Eco did the design for it. The array would be maintained and insured by the Green Bank, said Town Finance Director Anthony Genovese.
However, the Legislature had capped the number of kilowatt/hour permissible under an energy surplus sharing concept called virtual net metering. The town is waiting to see its project either added to those permitted or for the Legislature to raise its cap.
Residents Are Interested In Solar
Jim Scott, the owner of Joyce Printers on Research Drive in Woodbridge, was looking to add some solar installation at his business. His roof offers enough space to produce 150% of his energy needs, he learned after a solar provider called Skyline Solar had inspected his roof.
That’s too much energy, he learned, and is not allowed under current law. He said he was thinking of installing some ground-mounted arrays on a field behind his business, as he had seen in other states.
Commissioner Klee at the JCC ribbon cutting did mention a pilot the Legislature voted in to allow the sharing of surplus energy, but this was not available when Scott was looking into it.
In the meantime, the Woodbridge Solar Challenge has met its goal of doubling the number of residences with solar installations. When the program started last fall, there were 15 homeowners who had solar installed. Since the town signed up for the challenge, 18 more have signed up, according to Assistant Administrative Officer Betsy Yagla.
There are also residents who took the solar plunge separately from the solar challenge. Garrett Stack for instance had Skyline Solar install 43 photovoltaic panels on his roof. The initial cost of $44,000 will be brought down considerably by a federal tax credit of some $12,000 and a low-interest, 12-year loan, which will be paid off by the savings anticipated from the energy savings.
Even though the installation was complete by the end of May, UI hadn’t flipped the switch by mid-July. “It’s a very complex process,” to incorporate the flow of energy to and from his house without causing surges for his neighbors, Stack said.
The broadening scope of energy generation — solar and otherwise — in Woodbridge and the rest of the state is all part of “a new model of energy generation,” said First Selectman Ellen Scalettar. “And it’s getting closer to home.”
Pictured: Installers of the solar car port at the JCC had to work through some harsh winter months to get the canopies up. A ribbon cutting July 16 celebrated the successful completion of the project.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent