Local developer, Albemarle schools look to save with solar
Local developer Alan Taylor, known for numerous residential and commercial projects from Charlottesville to Crozet, is banking on a harder-to-spot asset to build his business.
Riverbend Development, of which Taylor is president, this year began installing solar panels at some of its properties. Taylor also has helped to start a solar energy firm to install arrays of photovoltaic panels.
Sun Tribe Solar, which is based in downtown Charlottesville and began operations in April, has about 10 projects in the works, said Devin Welch, the company’s vice president for business development.
Riverbend Development early this year had Charlottesville-based Altenergy install a solar array at Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet. The brewery has been offsetting its power use with the panels since April.
Taylor has further plans to feed power to Kardinal Hall, Timbercreek Market and the Juice Laundry at the Coca-Cola building on Preston Avenue in Charlottesville. And more installations around town are planned.
“Every new building in the development pipeline already has a solar plan in place, and I would love to solarize every rooftop in our existing portfolio,” Taylor said.
Sun Tribe officials said they have verbal agreements in place to install a one-megawatt array at a Gordonsville industrial complex, and have small arrays planned for the Earlysville and Ivy business parks in Albemarle County.
Taylor said his motivation is twofold: panels generate electricity without burning fossil fuels or emitting greenhouse gases, and, he said, they are a business no-brainer.
“Everyone who is paying attention is taking a fresh look at solar energy. It is so clearly the right thing to do,” he said. “And now that it makes sense economically, the decision to embrace solar is an easy one to make.”
For tenants in Riverbend properties, Taylor hopes to offset electricity bills with on-site arrays. Commercial customers paying Sun Tribe to install the panels can expect a return on investment of more than 10 percent over the life of the system, Welch said.
Part of those savings come in the form of a federal tax credit worth 30 percent of the system’s installation cost, though the incentive is set to expire Dec. 31.
Even without that credit, Welch said, the business case for solar is compelling. Panel owners can claim the system’s depreciation as a tax deduction, and can make income selling renewable energy credits.
“We are at a rare moment where, for companies and individuals, solar makes sense without subsidies, but there are subsidies and grants available,” he said.
Ben Pfinsgraff, co-owner of Common House, a social club in development on Market Street in Charlottesville, said the savings sold him on what had been a pipe dream.
“It made sense both in cost and energy savings, and it was what we had wanted to do anyway,” he said.
Pfinsgraff is currently rebuilding 206 W. Market St. after a roof collapse last winter, and expects to work in solar around rooftop attractions at the club.
“There is a portion of our roof that is not being used that will have solar panels, and we are also going to have solar panels on top of a pergola,” he said.
While Taylor is pushing to install solar on private projects, six Albemarle County schools last month began drawing some of their power from roof-mounted solar arrays.
Under a power purchase agreement with Staunton-based solar company Secure Futures, the division’s panels will supply 22 percent of the six schools’ power needs over the 20-year agreement.
Under a power purchase agreement, a third-party company — in this case, Secure Futures — installs and maintains the panels free of charge, then sells the power they generate back to the customer — in this case, Albemarle County Public Schools.
The division expects to save $80,000 on electricity costs over the course of the agreement.
The division’s power purchase agreement was made possible by a Dominion Virginia Power pilot program allowing schools, government entities, religious organizations and nonprofits enter into such agreements to install solar or wind energy systems up to one megawatt.
The pilot program does not extend to single-family homes, but Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he expects legislation to change that in the next General Assembly session.
“We will be proposing legislation. We support this effort and we want to encourage everybody to get in the clean energy business,” he said at a ribbon-cutting at Monticello High School last week for the county schools’ arrays. “I want people to be able to do this in their homes and put it on the grid. I think that is what everyone should be doing.”