Revitalizing Cities Through Sustainability

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

Rebekah Heath, C+S ’18

I am from Pawtucket, a tiny Rhode Island town famous for being the hometown of Peter Griffin and the rest of the Family Guy crew, the minor league baseball team for the Boston Red Sox (cleverly named the PawSox) and an extremely high unemployment rate. Pawtucket begs for revitalization. But, like many of these old mill towns, there is an obvious lack of capital for making necessary improvements. This has left dilapidated buildings lining the main street, further reducing curb appeal.

This pattern has played out around the U.S., creating a cycle that threatens the integrity and economy of these small cities that are rich with history. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There are several local and nationwide programs attempting to revitalize these downtown areas. One of those programs is Greenworks Lending, a company that aims to rehabilitate businesses through clean energy solutions, where I’m working this summer.

Recently, Greenworks Lending has worked on a project in East Haven, Connecticut. East Haven‘s Main St. is a typical small town. One side of the street boasts a Hobby Lobby, while the other is home to a Subway sandwich shop. Peppered amongst these popular commercial retailers are small, privately owned mom-and-pop shops that sit right on the edge of the sidewalk. While some might claim that the doomed fate of these mom-and-pop shops are the result of the natural ebb and flow of small businesses, others are trying to do something about it.

Greenworks was founded in 2015 with the humble goal of changing the world building by building, using a specific type of financing that could help rapidly scale clean energy in commercial buildings around the country, resulting in benefits for local businesses, energy security, and the environment. Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) financing enables many types of commercial property owners to enhance business operations, increase property values and contribute to community sustainability goals. Greenworks provides clean energy and energy efficiency investments to include building owners across the country and all types of businesses in smart business decisions that stand on their own.

Using C-PACE Financing, Greenworks can provide financing for several different energy savings projects, including solar energy, building envelope upgrades, boilers, chillers, and furnaces, automated building controls, HVAC systems, roof replacements, high efficiency lighting, hot water heating systems, variable speed drives, water conservation, and resiliency. As a result, there is an increase in cash flow with equipment financing terms that match useful life, meaning that building owners can see savings on day one. Furthermore, C-PACE financing can increase property value by improving net operating income and the overall marketability of properties with efficient and renewable energy infrastructure. By reducingoperating expenses and preserving any available capital with 100 percent funding, C-PACE financing provides low rates and long terms for energy saving and renewable energy improvements to commercial properties like the ones that line America’s main streets. Greenworks lending is able to finance these projects through internal capital raise, which means that most of the projects are ultimately free for the borrower.

The work that Greenworks Lending is doing is in part due to the strength of the relationship between the company and Main Street America, a national nonprofit advocate for revitalizing downtown commercial districts. Greenworks Lending provides a referral fee for any deal closed on a main street, which gives them the ability to further their grant making and advocacy work.

Take two local businesses like East Haven’s Tolli’s Apizza and La Pergola, both owned by Anthony Peluso. The two restaurants sit side-by-side and have been institutions in downtown East Haven for over 63 years. GrubHub five-star reviews abound including: “Tolli’s never disappoints!! Best Italian…excellent eggplant rollatini and pizza!” and “First time. Pizza was soooooo gud.”

Both restaurants have been family owned and operated for three going on four generations. The local community has benefited from the convenience of a casual gathering place and years of little league sponsorships, but business in Connecticut is enormously expensive due to increasing energy costs and decreasing tax credits. For Anthony, who lives right next door to his shop, it was getting to be too much. In order to keep the business running smoothly, Anthony needed to address his ever-increasing electricity bill.

Last fall, he elected to finance and install rooftop solar using C-PACE financing after deploying several energy efficiency measures on the property during prior renovations. That’s right. A main street wood fired pizza restaurant in East Haven is now powered by a 30-kilowatt solar array on its roof.

In his first year of operating with the new solar array, Anthony is projected to save $41,456 on his utility bills. During the lifetime of the system, Anthony will save $261,343. Instead of spending his hard-earned savings, Anthony did not have to touch his capital. It’s this financing that is keeping places like Tolli’s in business, so they can keep competing in (and winning) the East Haven Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meatball Challenge. It’s also a clear example of how renewable energy and sustainability does not stifle economic development but rather enhances it. Together, with Main Street America, Greenworks is aiming to revitalize America, one pizza shop, bakery, office building, nursing home, and more at a time.

Sustainability comes in all shapes and sizes. In a time where it seems to sit permanently on the back burner of the federal government’s mind, it is crucial that local work is done to increase its visibility and share its effectiveness. So why not do it in a place we all know and love, America’s main streets.


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