July 28, 2016 09:43AM
By Molly Callahan Record-Journal staff
MERIDEN — A two-year, $3 million project to make the historic building at 290 Pratt St. run more efficiently was capped off Wednesday with the public unveiling of a large solar array on the roof.
The 215-kilowatt array, which takes up a significant portion of the roof on the 132-year-old building, will power 30 to 40 percent of the building, according to Michael Webb, project manager.
That’s a big upgrade from a decade ago, when the building “was literally so inefficient, there were areas of the building where you could not shut the lights out,” described Steven Ancona, who leads the company that purchased the 435,000-square-foot building.
“We found that there were lots of inefficient energy systems, lots of inefficient heating and cooling systems, and one of the things we wanted to attack in dealing with a big old historic mill building was making it modern and efficient for modern day businesses, and to help it operate in a more cost-effective way,” Ancona said Wednesday.
Through the Connecticut Property Assessed Clean Energy program, Ancona was able to obtain financing to move forward with a two-phase project to install more than $3 million worth of energy-efficient equipment. The program is offered through the quasi-public Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority.
The program, commonly referred to as C-PACE, was established about five years ago through legislation to help finance capital projects that involve energy upgrades. Through a secure lending structure, the program is able to easily obtain financing for energy projects, creating a state green bank.
Connecticut Green Bank, established in July 2011, is the nation’s first full-scale green bank. It leverages public and private funds for renewable energy deployment and energy efficiency projects in the state.
Before a company can apply for funding, however, the municipality where it’s located must first opt into the C-PACE program. About 100 municipalities across the state have done this, and Meriden was one of the first through a City Council resolution in 2013.
At 290 Pratt St., work started with the energy-efficiency branch of Lockheed Martin performing an energy audit, which determined the measures that should be taken. They followed through with the updates in the intervening years. The solar array was installed in a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Middletown-based Greenskies Renewable Energy LLC.
Brian Garcia, CEO of the Connecticut Green Bank, said Wednesday, “It’s cool to see all the pieces working together. This is one of the largest energy-efficiency projects in the state.”
Webb said the array is expected to save building owners $5.5 million in energy costs over the next 20 years — savings they can pass on to the building’s dozens of tenants, as well as use toward paying off the loan and its interest.
“We believe the improvements we made to the building benefit those companies” in it, Ancona said.
While the solar array is the most striking component of the efficiency overhaul, there are updates throughout the building.
Glass windows were replaced with insulated fiberglass panes. The semi-transparent white windows allow light to come into the building but reduce heat intake from sunlight. This makes the building easier to cool in the summer. The windows are also airtight, preventing heat from escaping in the winter.
In addition, 22 new washing machine-sized cooling units were installed on the building’s roof, as well as individualized thermostats for each tenant.
City Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski said Wednesday, “It’s such a model project. I talk to businesses about what the opportunities are for brownfield remediation, economic development, repurposing old buildings into new, modernizing buildings using all the different state programs; this is the model project.”
Ancona, too, noted the building’s transformation over the past few years.
“This is a brownfield project; an old historic building with some history of ... contamination and we’ve been in the process of cleaning it up over the past number of years, and we’ll keep going until it’s done. So we’re literally going from brown to green in this building and we’re very proud of that.”