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Commons Energy Offers New Approach for Public Purpose Buildings to Save Energy

The Darling Inn received comprehensive energy upgrades. Photo: Craig Simmons.

The Darling Inn received comprehensive energy upgrades. Photo: Craig Simmons.

By Zoe Dawson

Commons Energy offers a comprehensive approach to reducing energy and water use for owners of buildings that serve a public purpose. These buildings include multifamily affordable housing, schools, health care facilities, houses of worship, community centers, and municipal buildings.

Owners of these types of buildings frequently do not have the time or technical expertise to identify and install complex energy-efficient systems and equipment and typically have difficulty getting access to sufficient capital to make the needed upgrades. Commons Energy was created to address those needs. It offers technical services to identify and scope energy-saving projects, oversees the installation of efficiency upgrades, guarantees the energy savings will occur, and also offers long-term, low-interest financing if needed.

Established as a low-profit, limited liability company (L3C) − a form of LLC that balances social and financial returns − Commons Energy is a subsidiary of Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the economic and environmental costs of energy use. More information is available at www.commonsenergy.com.

Passive House Senior Affordable Housing in Milton

Commons Energy is providing technical services and financing to help build the first multifamily building in Vermont intended to be certified as Passive House: Elm Place in Milton. The project developer was Cathedral Square Corporation of South Burlington, and other participants included Efficiency Vermont, Duncan Wisniewski Architecture, J.D. Kantor, and EcoHouses of Vermont. This super-efficient building is expected to save approximately 65% of total site energy use over a similar building meeting minimum energy code requirements. In addition, the project is expected to cut heating costs by more than 80%.

South Burlington Municipal Energy Upgrades

South Burlington has a tradition of investing in energy efficiency to lower the costs of operating municipal buildings. This saves tax payer dollars by reducing operating costs. In 2016, it invested in new efficient heating systems for Fire Station 1 on Dorset Street and Fire Station 2 on Holmes Road. The impetus for these energy improvements comes from the Georgetown University Energy Prize Competition, in which South Burlington is a participant.

The campaign to understand and reduce municipal and residential energy of both electricity and natural gas use resulted in a partnership between South Burlington and Commons Energy, with an objective of making efficiency improvements in municipally owned buildings. After completing the fire station upgrades, South Burlington and Commons Energy have planned more projects for 2017. The ongoing energy savings from the completed projects are expected to continue to reduce the costs of operating South Burlington’s municipal buildings well beyond 2016.

Comprehensive Retrofit in the Northeast Kingdom

The Darling Inn is a 28-unit apartment building located in Lyndonville, Vermont. Originally a hotel built in 1928, the Darling Inn was converted to serve as an apartment building in the 1970s. Commons Energy provided construction oversight and commissioning services, as the Darling Inn underwent a complete facility retrofit. Other partners on this project were RuralEdge, Amy Wright, 3E Thermal, and Efficiency Vermont.

The building had an outdated thermal shell and a costly and complicated heating system. The first floor was heated by an oil boiler and the second and third floors with electric storage heaters. Improvements reduced the per-unit cost to heat and provide hot water to each unit by 56%, and the project was able to access low-rate financing from USDA Rural Development to fund the energy upgrades.

Zoe Dawson is a consultant for Commons Energy

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