Solar panels above a pollinator garden, with bees flying around.

Solar power can coexist nicely with the natural environment when you include a wildflower garden under it. (Photo illustration by Argonne National Laboratory.)

This blog post is part three of four on our recent proposal for Buckeye Fields Senior Apartments. Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

One of the challenges with maintaining affordability in any housing development, including senior housing, is reigning in long-term utility costs. Volatility in utility bills poses challenges for residents on fixed incomes, who may be unable to afford a sudden, sharp increase in their electricity bill. The owners can opt to cover the cost of utilities in their rent, but that just pushes the volatility to the property’s operating budget.

When we were designing Buckeye Fields, we wanted to make sure that our senior residents weren’t burdened by high utility costs. The best way to lock in affordable power: generate it ourselves. Our innovative proposal features a 250 kilowatt solar array to address this challenge, a feature unique in the recent round of 9% proposals. This array substantially reduces operating costs for the lifetime of the system, which will ensure that the property can keep rents affordable over the long term. Here are a couple of considerations that made it possible:

  • Site accessibility. The land we’re leasing from Washington County is 65 acres, and currently a large farmfield. The residential development will take up just over 12 acres of  that, leaving ample space to install a ground-mounted solar array. A ground mounted system can be installed at a lower cost than a roof-mounted one, and can generate more power, too.
  • Utilities included. By covering the utilities for the entire proposed development with one electric meter, Community Building Partners was able to consolidate and decrease the utility costs, and transfer the savings along to our residents through service provision and lower rents.
  • Investment tax credit. In an innovative approach, we layered the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and the Renewable Energy Tax Credit together to help lower the debt of the solar facility. The former supports affordable housing, and the latter creates an incentive to build renewable energy. By aligning those two goals we were able to create a feasible and sustainable path for our project to reduce operational costs, increase site resilience, and contribute to climate action. 
  • Community Renewable Energy. And last, but not least, CBP was able to call on its in-house expertise at its sister enterprise Community Renewable Energy (CRE) for help designing and planning the solar array. The experts at CRE helped us design and plan for the system, and they will continue working with us to secure financing, procure the materials, install the system and operate and maintain it. This takes the burden of solar development off of our nonprofit partners, and allows our broad base of experts to do what they do best. 

But our commitment to sustainability doesn’t stop at renewable energy. Under the panels themselves we intend to plant a pollinator garden, seeded with local plants that draw wildlife like birds, monarchs, bees and other valuable small mammals that pollinate plants and sustain our ecosystems. So in addition to powering their homes, the solar array will enhance Marietta’s beautiful natural environment, support the local ecosystem, and save the bees! Taking all these factors into consideration, solar power was a clear winner for Buckeye Fields. 

But beyond solar power, there’s one more unique quality of our proposal. That’s for the next post–stay tuned.

Praxia Partners