Aging public housing buildings in Annapolis get new solar panels

August 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

The high-tech panels at Harbour House happened to have been installed at about the same time U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development inspectors in June deemed the housing authority’s seven properties substandard.

The Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis has been on a federal watch list for failing conditions for more than a decade, partly because of the buildings’ age and partly because of the lack of upkeep from residents, the authority’s executive director, Vincent O. Leggett, said.

“Part of the poor scores were not only the physical plant, but the poor housekeeping,” Leggett said of the recent HUD report. The housing authority lacks the money to renovate all its properties, and it has recently entered several public-private partnerships to finance projects. The status on the watch list made it hard to get grants.

The economics of installing solar panels — particularly the more efficient type that converts sunlight into heat for water — have changed over the past few years as technology has made the panels cheaper and tax credits have made it more affordable to install them. Thousands of solar panels were installed on public housing across the country using grants from the federal stimulus bill — including a housing project in Washington County, HUD officials said.

But Annapolis’ solar panels were installed by a private company that specifically seeks out public housing.

Bill Tamburrino, director of HUD’s Baltimore office, said he referred Skyline Innovations to all Maryland public housing authorities, but Annapolis is the only one so far to have buildings that met what Skyline needed.

“For me, this is great news,” Tamburrino said.

The Washington-based company does both private and public projects in six states across the country, looking for big buildings with flat roofs and shared hot-water systems. Tamburrino said most public housing authorities that could afford to do so worked to install individual hot-water units in every apartment. But two of Annapolis’ older complexes fit what the company needed, including the desire to cut bills today and not invest any money upfront.

“The more dollars that we can conserve, the more dollars we can put into the system,” Leggett said.

Skyline’s model installs what amounts to a small solar utility on the roof of the building, then sells the solar energy back to the housing authority for 30 percent less than the cost to heat water by traditional means.

The company’s solar panels heat hot water for 6,500 residents in D.C. public housing, Skyline spokeswoman Sandra Lee said. And while the company works with privately owned buildings too, she said, it targets public housing because it’s a simple sell.

“It’s just that benefits to public housing are really clear,” Lee said. “They really want the operational savings, and they really don’t have the hundreds of thousands of dollars in upfront money to invest in installing solar systems.”

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