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ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County’s first solar panel installation, financed through its innovative C-PACE program, is now up and running in Rockville on March 6 in the office building at 541 Hungerford Drive.
The Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy program, called C-PACE, is an environmental and financing program run by the county. The program is a partnership between private lenders who provide financing for energy-efficient projects on commercial buildings in the county and businesses that want to reduce their negative impact on the environment.
The end goal is a more energy-efficient and environmentally mindful area.
The C-PACE program was launched in 2016 as a way to help businesses in the county become more efficient in their use of resources like electricity and water; it also provides infrastructure for other green technologies as electric car-charging ports in parking lots.
Lindsey Robinette Shaw, manager of Energy and Sustainability Programs for Montgomery County, said that the county council has set lofty environmental goals to address climate change, and that C-PACE is a good start to reach those goals.
The council’s resolution to declare a climate emergency in the fall of 2017 set such benchmarks such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2027 and making the whole county carbon-neutral by 2035.
“That’s a super-tall order, and it’s going to be a very heavy lift to get there,” Robinette Shaw said. “Our commercial buildings make up at least a third of our greenhouse gas emissions in the county, so having programs like our benchmarking law and C-PACE are really important to help the commercial building industry help us make that goal.”
One step to making Montgomery County’s buildings more environmentally friendly is by retrofitting existing buildings. Rob Eisinger who has owned 541 Hungerford Drive for the past two years, said h thought of the project as a good long-term investment.
“Installing the solar panels provides a financial return that’s acceptable, and you actually balance that with other benefits of doing these improvements,” said Eisinger, who is managing director of development at Promark Partners, a real estate company. “So, it might not be a market rate return, but it might be a return that’s good enough. And in addition, you know what you’re doing is the right thing for the environment.”
The seven-story building, which sits just outside Rockville Town Square, was built in 1980, according to Eisinger. It is well occupied with businesses, and has good bones for environmental retrofitting, he said.
“It had not really been updated over the years, so we thought it was ripe for some improvements that would reduce the energy usage dramatically,” Eisinger said. “So, it was just kind of a good investment all around.”
Recurrent Innovative Solutions, which was the contractor for the project, did the design, research and installation.
The building’s solar panels are two-sided, which allows them to absorb more energy than previous panels that use only one side. The rooftop has also been outfitted with a reflective membrane that bounces more light energy onto the panels, according to Keith Derrington, the CEO of Recurrent. The solar panels contribute five percent of the energy required to power the building.
“It’s not a huge amount, but it’s what this roof is big enough for,” Derrington said.
The building has other ways to conserve energy, in addition to solar panels. With water-saving appliances, 1,500 new LED lights and a new HVAC system among other technologies, the building should expect a 48-percent reduction in electricity use.
The process of retrofitting the buildings and going through the C-PACE program took about a year, according to Eisinger. Recurrent Solutions compiled the designs and research into a nearly 700-page report.
Completing the retrofitting took the cooperation of many different parties. Reports for projects such as this are generally reviewed by a third-party engineer, according to Eisinger, and then reviewed again by the county.
“We were fortunate in that we hired a contractor that knows the ropes, so we actually relied on them to guide us through the process,” Eisinger said.
Although projects like C-PACE might seem daunting, Robinette Shaw stated that they are easy to get started.
“Basically, if you can make the case that your project will save energy and reduce your energy bills, it’s very likely your project will be PACE eligible,” she said. “And if there are things that need to occur in order to support that project, like a roof replacement, for example, that cost is also included in PACE.”
Financing through the program has a much longer payment horizon, according to Robinette Shaw. That means a business has more time to pay back the money they borrowed to make their buildings more environmentally efficient. Over time, the funding is repaid as a surcharge on property taxes.
C-PACE is meant to make green projects more accessible and thus more likely to be used. By utilizing initiatives such as this, companies do not have to compromise between helping the environment and their bottom line.
“Obviously, I mean, we are a private business, but at the same time we recognize that you can make improvements to the building to help the environment,” Eisinger said. “And you don’t necessarily have to forgo a profit as well, so that’s where the PACE program is nice.”