At a solar and geothermal energy workshop at CitySpace on Thursday, one city councilor and two renewable energy experts discussed the Charlottesville Renewable Energy Revolving Loan Program and solar and geothermal technologies.
“We’re putting Charlottesville on the map as a place that supports clean, renewable energy,” said Councilor Dave Norris.
Currently, homeowners throughout the area can work with the Local Energy Alliance Program to increase their houses’ energy efficiency. The city of Charlottesville partnered with LEAP last spring to create the revolving loan program to provide financing for small businesses to install renewable energy systems.
LEAP administers the loans and manages the funds, which come from the city’s capital improvements fund.
“This process started about a year ago,” Norris said. “We asked ourselves how the city could play a role in financing energy improvements.”
“We’re not looking to be experimental,” said LEAP commercial energy program manager Tom Cassidy. “We want to work with projects that use proven technologies.”
Geothermal heating and cooling is one such technology, and LEAP commercial energy program manager Girard Gurgick would like to see demand increase.
“It’s the best renewable,” Gurgick said, “but geothermal needs pull from the marketplace.”
“The hard part is deciding if you’re going to be in your house long enough to know if you’re going to benefit or if someone else is,” he added.
The average cost of installing a residential geothermal system is approximately $25,000.
Gurgick says he’s never seen it take longer than nine years for a homeowner to recoup investment, and that number is closer to six years when using a 30 percent federal tax credit, which runs through 2016.
To encourage geothermal use, Gurgick would like to see Property Assessed Clean Energy loan programs develop.
“The state legislature has approved it, but no municipalities have endorsed it,” Gurgick said.
A PACE program would attach the loan for the renewable system to the property, rather than the individual. This would be accomplished by attaching it to the property’s tax value and would require municipalities to sell bonds.
“We need to do something yesterday,” Gurgick said, “and geothermal pays for itself. There are a lot of products out there, but as for the paybacks, I wouldn’t vouch for them yet.”
Albemarle resident and solar power expert Jason Fisher doesn’t see the renewable energy as strictly economic.
“The conversation always goes to when investment and return will meet, where that point is,” Fisher said. “But no one can predict that because no one can guarantee the future cost of energy.”
“What’s more interesting,” he added, “is what happens after that point.”
Fisher works for a major solar panel manufacturer, but sees a diversified energy economy in the future.
“There’s no dominant view that solar is going to be the single power source of the future,” he said, “but it is a significant contributor to a future that is fossil fuel free.”
Due to the low cost of power in Virginia, however, the current state of solar throughout the state isn’t bright.
“When you look around the world, where you see the highest demand, there’s the lowest prices because of competition,” Fisher said. “We have extremely cheap power here, but if those prices rose, solar would be easier to sell.”
More information about the Charlottesville Renewable Energy Revolving Loan Program can be found at: http://www.leap-va.org/node/4852.