Birmingham Alabama Skyline

SB220 Passed! – What it Means

Alabama Senate Bill 220 passed the House and Senate on June 4th, 2015 and became law when Gov. Robert Bentley signed it on June 12th, 2015. Sounds great! Right??? Here’s what it means.

What is SB220?

Quite simply SB220 allows any improvement district (think downtown redevelopment authority) and municipalities (think counties and cities) to create a property assessed clean energy (PACE) program. SB220 primarily focuses on upgrades to existing real property (non-residential) to improve its resilience to storm-related events such as high winds and flooding. Energy efficiency and renewable energy are included in this definition.

What is PACE?

PACE is a simple and effective way to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades to buildings that are repaid through a small increase in property taxes. PACE can pay for new heating and cooling systems, lighting improvements, solar panels, water pumps, insulation, and many other efficiency and resiliency improvements for almost any property – homes, commercial, industrial, non-profit, and agricultural.

Why is PACE a good thing?

PACE is effective because the money for an improvement project is typically borrowed from a governmental authority and comes with a low interest rate and a long payback period. These two things taken in concert allow many more projects to become good economic deals.

Think about this hypothetical example. You run a small local restaurant and your heating and cooling system dies. Even your cheapest quotes come in at over $6,000 and those units aren’t even energy-efficient! That’s a ton of money and you may not have the cash to pay for it. In a normal world you’d go to your bank to get a loan or put it on your company credit card.

Without PACE – Bank Loan

  • $6,000 loan
  • 5 year repayment period
  • 6% interest
  • = $116.00 monthly payment

Without PACE – Credit Card

  • $6,000 loan
  • 5 year repayment period
  • 17% interest
  • =$149.00 monthly payment

With PACE

  • $7,500 loan
  • 15 year repayment period
  • 3% interest
  • =$51.79 monthly payment

Under this example you’d be able to buy the much more efficient heating and cooling unit for at least half the monthly payment! You might be able to even add air sealing, insulation, solar or other upgrades and still have a cheaper monthly payment. We’d guess that you think PACE is a good idea!

Keep in mind that SB220 only authorizes this type of program for commercial buildings; but, hopefully future legislation will bring this option to residential property owners as well. The more Alabama businesses that complete upgrades through a PACE program, the more money they can reinvest in their business further stimulating the local economy. Also, these business are likely to experience less down-time or disruption should a natural disaster hit.

When will PACE come to Alabama?

Well…. that’s a good question. SB220 is only what is considered ‘enabling legislation’. It doesn’t actually create a PACE program but simply allows local governments and improvement districts to do so. Now we wait for the first municipality in Alabama to jump on it AND a state agency to be given oversight authority. Since the legislation was born out of South Alabama and originally intended for natural disaster resiliency, we’d put our bet on a city like Mobile. Of course we could be wrong! If you would like us to work with your city to implement PACE, let us know!

UAH Students Install Solar Panel to School Golf Cart

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – A University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) golf cart will never need to be plugged in again. Some young minds outfitted it with solar panels so it gets natural — and free — energy to power it.

With help from Energy Alabama, the golf cart is the only one being outfitted — for now. The team hopes it will become a moving billboard as it moves students and staff across campus to promote the accessibility and convenience of solar power.

To read the full article, please visit: http://whnt.com/2015/07/08/uah-students-install-solar-panel-to-school-golf-cart/

Avion Solutions Solar Ribbon Cutting

Avion Solutions Solar Array

Avion Solutions, a Huntsville-based company that specializes in aviation and engineering within Army Aviation, recently unveiled their new 50 kilowatt solar array. During the Avion Solutions solar ribbon-cutting ceremony, Randy Buckner, the Director of Research and Development was quick to point out that this was not the first step they’ve taken to reduce their energy use. Whether you are seeking energy efficiency in a home or a commercial facility, the first steps are in reducing energy use and making the overall facility more energy-efficient. Only after that is complete do you install something like a solar array.

Under Buckner’s leadership Avion has taken many steps to cut their energy consumption. When Avion was first entered their data in ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager, the company’s facilities only received a score of 2 out of 100! Buckner set his sights on changing that and by making just simple small changes within the building they were able to increase their score to 54.

Buckner said the first step was awareness. Knowing the tools they had available and how to use them properly was the first step. Utilizing the software that came with their HVAC system, Buckner was able to optimize the system, and determine that a few small upgrades would mean big payoff.

Heating and cooling was responsible for 54% of Avion’s energy use. Using the tools they already had available, Buckner discovered that they were cooling already cold air in the winter. The HVAC system was running constantly. Optimizing the system use netted Avion a 41.3% energy savings.

The next step was upgrading the outdoor lighting to LED. This simple retrofit saved Avion another 11.6% on their energy bills.

Avion’s most recent (and largest) energy improvement was the installation of a revenue-generating photovoltaic system. They sell all their energy directly TVA under their Green Power Providers program at a 40% profit margin from the going retail rate (~$0.10/kWh). This agreement will provide Avion with a net profit of over $111,000 over the course of 20 years.

Avion Solutions solar grid tied system

Future Plans

But, they aren’t finished yet! Avion still has more plans to improve their energy efficiency with the goal of ‘Net Zero Energy’! They are partnered with Energy Alabama in our North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge to help other companies int the Huntsville/Madison County area reduce their energy usage too.

Buckner continues to work on awareness among the companies employees, showing them how small changes within their individual offices can net big payoffs. Where employees used to use space heaters to keep their office warm in the winter they are finding that they can now stay warm without it.

Avion already has automated lighting systems throughout the building, but Buckner has found that a small change in how those lights are set up could provide even more savings, while allowing individual employees more control over the level of lighting in their offices.

Avion has also placed an advanced order for a Tesla Power Wall which will use stored power to assist in reducing their overall usage during peak times. They also have plans to install electric car charging stations that will be available to Avion employees, customers, and neighbors.

This is obviously just the beginning for Avion as they lead the charge towards bringing Huntsville businesses to ‘Net Zero Energy’.

Learn more about the North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge.

Google’s 100% Renewable Energy Alabama Campus – What it Means

North Alabama welcomes Google with its 14th data center! Yay Alabama! OK, so what does it actually mean?

There are two key takeaways that matter to you:

  1. It is now clear that clean, sustainable energy is extremely important to companies of the “new economy”.
  2. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is re-purposing its shuttered coal-fired power plants to create even more jobs and economic activity than these plants previously provided.

Importance of Google’s Alabama Campus in the New Economy

North Alabama has traditionally been extremely competitive in luring new companies to the area. That said, the game is changing and North Alabama is keeping up. Looking around the country you’ll notice that more and more companies are considering renewable energy and highly energy-efficient buildings as prerequisites for opening up shop. Want some examples?

  1. Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, TN plant is home to the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified auto plant in the world. This plant is also home to a solar array that produces more than 13 gigawatt hours of energy or enough to take 1,200 area homes off the grid. You may remember that this plant came down to a decision between Chattanooga, TN and Huntsville, AL.
  2. Apple’s Claremont, NC data center is powered by 100% sustainable energy. Their acquisition went so well, they kept going with another 100-acre, 17.5 MW plant. Apple recently made a commitment to power 100 percent of their Apple Retail Stores with 100 percent renewable energy.

This means that as you see Alabama continues to compete for the jobs of the 21st century, expect more announcements like Google’s. Companies care about sustainable energy because their customers care about sustainable energy.

Oh and don’t forget, it saves them money too! Google’s newest technology allows them to get 3.5 times the computing power out of the same amount of energy, compared to just five years ago.

Re-purposing of Coal-Fired Power Plants

After the announcement that the Colbert Fossil Plant was closing, there was much speculation about what would become of the old sites. Additionally, while some employees were able to find work elsewhere in the TVA, many people were literally worrying about what they would do after their jobs were eliminated. Just a short time later, TVA announced that the site of the Colbert Fossil Plant would become home to Alabama’s largest solar power plant.

A recent study by the University of Alabama shows that the new solar-power plant will generate $52 million in additional local taxes and will create over 400 jobs with cumulative earning of over $24 million. Talk about a boom to the local economy! In fact it was so good Lauderdale County Commissioner Fay Parker said, “I have reviewed the study several times, just to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing.”

By itself, this conversion of the Colbert Fossil Plant was simply great news. But with the Google announcement, are we witnessing a clear strategy by TVA?

If so, we applaud them. As the numbers prove, these new sustainable-energy projects will generate more jobs, income, and tax revenues for their local areas than their predecessors did. In Stevenson, AL the announcement called for at least 100 “high paying jobs” which should be considered in contrast to the 90 jobs lost that probably paid less than Google. This doesn’t even consider the increase in tax revenue to the local school systems and Google’s well-known generosity.

Why old coal-fired power plants?

A couple of reasons. First, there is a significant amount of electrical transmission infrastructure already in place that is attractive to an energy-intensive project like a data center. Think about the money Google will save by building there or the money Alabama saved by not having to build out additional infrastructure as a recruiting incentive. Hint: your tax money was spent wisely! Second, coal-fired power plants typically use a lot of water, and data centers like Google’s can tap into that infrastructure, as well, for its own massive water needs.

Governments also care about sustainable energy because it is now a proven way to create more jobs and increase local tax revenues. Additionally, they can use their recruiting incentives in a more targeted way by properly utilizing existing infrastructure.

So what does it matter for you? Wouldn’t you want to work for Google? Take a peek inside of a Google data center and let us know in the comments.

The E in STEM Also Stands for Energy

ALCSE CEO, Daniel Tait, shared an opinion piece on AL.com about NerdWallet’s ranking of Huntsville, AL as the best place for STEM careers. Tait was sure to point out that the E in STEM also stands for Energy, and that sustainable energy careers are booming.

Last week NerdWallet, a national financial ranking website, proclaimed that Huntsville is the best place in the United States for a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) career.

Huntsville claimed the title due to plentiful STEM jobs and a low cost of living ahead of other high profile STEM hubs including California’s Silicon Valley and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Coming as no surprise to anyone who has lived in Huntsville for longer than two weeks, the ranking is a testament to the vitality and potential of our community.

Traditionally, Huntsville’s economic fortunes leaned heavily on NASA, the Department of Defense and their related support structures. Recently, STEM innovators like the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology have exploded onto the scene and expanded STEM opportunities into diverse fields beyond those of the aerospace and defense industries.

If this success is to continue, Huntsville’s must include a broader spectrum of STEM-related careers. Differentiation in the STEM field enables our city to build on a positive track record of innovation and cements our status as technology leader in the 21st century.

One of the most promising STEM career fields is energy, particularly sustainable energy. Sustainable energy careers are booming across many areas the country

Read the full article at AL.com.