Harnessing the Sun

By on Feb 12, 2013 in News

Flip the Switch ceremonyInvesting in earth-friendly sustainability, the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Barbara (HACSB) took green to the next level with the recent installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on 90% of its housing units. It’s a precedent setting project, and one of the largest solar projects by any housing authority in the country, to date.    

The story of this initiative is as much about the process as the result. Initially, the photovoltaic project was expected to cover just a small portion of the Housing Authority’s portfolio with funding through a stimulus grant offered by HUD. But a confluence of other grant options available made a portfolio-wide retrofit possible.

The effort resulted in 863 of HACSB’s almost 1000 units installed with solar PV, a system sized at 1.7MW – enough to offset 100 percent of the electricity energy needs for the 863 units. The PV project utilized American-made solar panels from SolarWorld and employed a local business, Planet Solar, for the installation.

“This was a case of unique timing and a whole host of funding sources in order to pay for the project,” says Loren Reeves, HACSB bookkeeper and solar initiative project manager.

In addition to the HUD stimulus funding, the HACSB utilized $3.5 million in funding through Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) offered through the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC). Following MASH, the HACSB opted to go all in, taking advantage of available 1603 federal funds from the U.S. Treasury Department.

Ultimately, all $12.5 million for the project was paid for from grant funding, meaning that once the switches flipped on, the Housing Authority and its residents received immediate relief on their electricity bills.

“We are really proud of this project and I think a lot of other people in the community were really proud of it as well,” Reeves said. “It immediately offsets the electricity bill. It has definitely been positively received by the residents.”

The project, however, was not always sunshine and rainbows. Taking on this amount of funding and utility rebates, working with three separate utility districts, and the changes to entity structure to take on 1603 funding was a gargantuan task.

While most projects were completely installed for the “Flip the Switch” ceremony in 2011, several installations had to wait upwards of six months for their rebates to come in before they could be operational.

Loren has long maintained an interest in sustainable business practices, receiving his Entry Level North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certification after graduating San Francisco State. A local to the Lompoc area, he joined the HACSB in 2009 and jumped right into the solar PV project.  He knows better than anyone the difficulty of their endeavor and the uniqueness of their approach, but encourages others to take advantage of incentives and timing. “If the funding is available and you have the opportunity, go for it…The overall process, installing energy efficient measures,  is definitely beneficial for operations as well as the environment,” he counseled.

The HACSB, a Yardi client, continues to implement green initiatives into its portfolio, installing solar on all new housing projects. Their extraordinary efforts to green their portfolio will remain a shining example of utilizing available opportunities and hard work to bring benefits to its residents and surrounding community.