Earthplace shines light on ‘green’ energy upgrades
A haven for nature enthusiasts since it was established in 1958, Earthplace is spearheading an initiative to increase Westport’s environmental sustainability through a clean energy upgrade.
In the second phase of a multi-year project, the nature center added 32kw of solar, heating system upgrades and LED lighting.
The new measures are expected to result in a carbon footprint reduction of 40 tons per year, save 1,742 gallons yearly in heating oil, reduce grid electrical power 65 percent and cut particulate emissions by 40 percent. Economically, the $300,000 project is estimated to generate annual savings of $22,500, Earthplace officials said. The center spent less than $5,000 out of pocket on the project, they added.
“This is a triple-win,” said Tony McDowell, executive director of Earthplace. “If we all, meaning if the state, the town and Earthplace have a goal to be net-zero by 2050, and then we reduce a lot of energy use today, in 2016, then we get the benefit of all those efficiencies all the way up to 2050. The sooner you do it, the more benefit you have for us in terms of cost reduction, but also for the town and state.”
In the first phase of the project, completed in 2012, Earthplace focused on improving the structure of its building. New roofs, double-pane windows and insulation were installed along with 12kw of solar capacity. Phase III will be designed to address water conservation and air circulation.
Earthplace was the first commercial applicant in Westport to receive a loan from the Connecticut Green Bank. The bank disburses loans for environmentally friendly, or “green,” energy initiatives. When Earthplace was approved by the bank, the state program C-PACE (Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy) financed $178,000 of the $300,000 project.
“Because we were an early adapter to make these changes there were some benefits that flowed to the town as well. They received 20 points in connection with participation in Clean Energy Communities program. The 20 points can be turned in for assets like electric car-charging stations and solar panels,” McDowell said.
“We also can be a showcase for other commercial properties. So we want to open up our processes and explain exactly the decisions we made and how it’s working, so if you’re a building owner downtown and you want to reduce your energy load, why don’t you come up here and talk to the engineers that worked on our project and see how it works,” he said.
McDowell explained how the its power provider and Earthplace both benefit from the relationship. The technology of solar panels has improved greatly in the last couple of years, he said, noting the panels just installed at Earthplace “are at least 40 percent better production capacity — they capture sunlight and convert it into useable energy in a much more productive way.
“The cost per kilowatt that we pay in this contract is like half of what we were paying in the old contract,” he added. “So there’s two benefits, one, the power company has more productive capacity using our roof and they in turn give us a better rate so our costs go down.”
From a bald eagle exhibit to a water-quality research program, the 62-acre nature sanctuary off Woodside Lane is designed to offer visitors of all ages an appreciation for the outdoors in a variety of ways. The grounds include a natural history museum, a preschool and numerous walking trails.
There is also a range of after-school programs for children of all ages “just about every day of the week,” said Sarah Ferrante, development and marketing manager at Earthplace. “Everything we do is for the community, we exist to provide these programs and to provide this facility for community use.”