University City

City has grants for commercial buildings

Ralph Burt Jr. cut his company's energy use by 28 percent with skylights, efficient lighting and insulation.

He put solar panels on his roof and is creating electricity for lighting and other daily operations at Mechanical Contractors, off Orr Road in northeast Charlotte.

Now he is expanding his business to help other companies cut their energy costs.

It all adds up to a success story for the city's new conservation program for businesses and apartment communities.

The city hopes to get even more companies involved this year. An information session is scheduled for March 12.

Applications for a pool of at least $290,000 in matching grants are due to Neighborhood & Business Services on April 2.

"The idea of the program is to improve the energy efficiency of structures, to create jobs and to inspire sustainable behaviors," said Nicole Storey, the city's coordinator for community energy conservation.

The city launched the program in 2010 to distribute federal stimulus money for commercial conservation.

Grants are issued as reimbursements for upgrades that increase energy efficiency by 15 percent or more.

Matching grants are available to upgrade systems in existing commercial buildings, including retail, office, hotel, restaurant, warehouse and manufacturing space.

Grants also are available for apartment communities built prior to 2000 as well as mixed-use properties.

The buildings must be in the city of Charlotte. The city gives special consideration to proposals from areas that are priority for revitalization.

(Visit vc.charmeck.org for a map of revitalization corridors. Click on the link for Neighborhood and for Business Corridor Revitalization Geography.)

Grants can pay for energy audits, insulation, caulking and doors, heating and cooling systems, lighting, solar systems and water conservation and other projects.

Burt's application was among the 13 to get a grant last year, the first for the program. The solar power system that now covers 20 percent of his roof produces 20 percent of the electricity his business needs.

Grant money helped Gary Lerner and his partners pay for new windows, doors and attic insulation for all 214 units at The Chimneys, a 1970s apartment complex off North Sharon Amity Road.

Tenants are reporting savings of about 25 percent on utility bills, Lerner said. He's using that as a selling point for leasing. A sign at the entrance says prices start at $499 a month.

"When people are looking for affordable housing, they're not going to look at a brand-new property," said Lerner. "This allowed us to get to the efficiency level where we are comparable to new construction."

The city contributed about $120,000, a little over half the costs. Lerner also got free shower heads from the city's water department and roughly 2,000 compact florescent light bulbs from Duke Power.

"Eventually we would have considered it," Lerner said of the upgrades. "This made it a viable option to do it."

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