Earthplace makes clean energy upgrade

Earthplace, the Nature Discovery & Environmental Learning Center, secured financing and is nearing completion of Phase II of an ambitious enterprise sustainability plan. This latest upgrade, part of a multiyear effort, positions Earthplace as a regional energy conservation showcase for its 23,000 square foot facility situated on a 62-acre nature sanctuary on Woodside Lane in Westport.

While the first phase (completed in 2012) focused on improving the energy efficiency of the building and installing the first 12kw of solar, the second phase added a further 32kw of solar with heating system upgrades (including new rooftop units, economizers, mini-splits, circulation and thermostatic controls) and a major LED lighting retrofit. A future Phase III will likely address water conservation, air circulation and other distributed generation technologies as Earthplace nears its goal of net zero carbon emissions.

“We are very excited about these upgrades to our facility as we look to create an energy conservation showcase,” says Tony McDowell, Executive Director of Earthplace. “This is a win-win-win project for Earthplace, the town and the state.” “We received state-supported financing for conservation and clean energy upgrades that will produce a lower carbon footprint for years to come. The carbon reduction benefits flow to the town and state as we all strive for net zero emissions by 2050.”

Part of the Earthplace’s ongoing contribution to the community has been its successful “Environmental Learning Series,” which is co-produced by The Westport Green Task Force and presents film-screenings and lectures followed by a panel of local experts available to answer questions. With regard to the recent clean energy upgrade Tony added: “We would like to hold an event for local commercial property owners who, like us, are keen to reduce their costs and environmental impact and would appreciate ideas on how to go about it. If that’s you, email us or check in at Earthplace.org.”

Environmental benefits from Phase II will include a reduction in grid-supplied electrical power of 103,223 kWh/year which represents 65% of current usage; a heating oil reduction of 1,742 gallons /year, a carbon footprint reduction of over 40 tons/year; and a particulate emissions reduction of 40%.

Designed and facilitated by Mark Robbins of MHR Development, LLC, this ambitious multi-measure plan leverages financing from the Connecticut Green Bank and incentives from several agencies, Eversource Energy, Renewable Energy Credits (Z-RECs) and a power purchase agreement (PPA) for the additional 32 KW rooftop mounted solar installation.

The total cost of these upgrades including the added solar was approximately $300,000. $178,000 was financed by a state program called C-PACE (Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy). This required engineering audits to establish a baseline and verify forecasts of energy savings to support the loan from the Connecticut Green Bank. The Earthplace installation is the first project in the town of Westport financed by the Connecticut Green Bank, a first-in-nation, quasi-public agency that provides loans based on projected energy savings from clean energy projects. The balance of the project expenses were offset by Renewable Energy Credits for zero emission installations or Z-RECs.

As an added bonus, the Town of Westport will receive approximately 20 points in connection with its participation in the Clean Energy Communities program because of the C-PACE loan for Earthplace. Points may be redeemed by the community for clean energy assets like electric car charging stations and solar panels.

Phase II Measures

  • Solar PPA 32 KW
  • LED Lighting
  • HVAC (Rooftop Units, Repair Economizers, Mini-splits, VFDs, Zone Valves, Thermostatic Controls, High Efficiency Boiler)

Benefits

Reduction in Grid Electrical Power: 103,223 kWh/year (65%)

Carbon Footprint Reduction: 40 Tons / Year

Reduction in Heating Oil: 1,742 Gallons / Year

Particulate Emissions Reduction: 40%

Economics

Total Project Value: $300,000

Projected Energy & Maintenance Savings / Year: $22,500

Out of pocket costs: Less than $5,000

About C-PACE

The C-PACE program in conjunction with other incentives can be leveraged to validate and deliver a project that is cash-flow positive — therefore the ongoing savings are greater than the loan repayment cost. A unique advantage of the C-PACE benefit assessment is that it runs with the property and may be passed on to future owners. Unlike conventional debt, the borrower is typically not obligated to retire the balance upon sale of the property.

About Earthplace

The mission of Earthplace is to build a passion in our community for nature and the environment through education, experience and action. Earthplace provides many resources to surrounding communities, including: a 62 acre nature sanctuary with 2½ miles of trails, indoor and outdoor live animal exhibits, a premier water quality lab and field monitoring program called Harbor Watch, a highly accredited nature-based Preschool and summer camp, a Nature Museum for children, and evening Environmental Learning programs for teens and adults. Earthplace naturalists provide drop-in nature programs throughout the year for members and the public to learn about and experience the natural world.

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