Savannah Morning News
August 10, 2010
The redevelopment of Savannah’s first public housing project, the westside’s Fellwood Homes, was already a green venture.
The ongoing Sustainable Fellwood project on Bay Street is keeping more than 100 mature trees in place, outfitting apartments and homes with low-flow toilets, Energy Star appliances and high-efficiency heating and air conditioning units. There’s even an organic community garden already growing.
But local solar energy advocate Jack Star saw a huge opportunity being missed in the public/private venture.
None of the mixed-income residences in the first phase, completed in May 2009, were solar-ready. That is, they weren’t built with the wiring in place to hook up to rooftop solar panels, should anyone want that option in the future.
So at a meeting about phase two of the project he raised the issue of running wiring from the meters to the roof of each building. The proposal was rejected for lack of money, despite Sustainable Fellwood’s estimated price tag of $50 million.
“We’re talking about 180 bucks (per building); it’s not like it needs a gargantuan amount of money,” Star said.
Not easily daunted, Star decided to raise the money himself by seeking a sponsor for each building.
So far he’s persuaded four donors of the six needed for phase two, which consists of 110 affordable housing units and 13 single-family homes.
The donors are Savannah businessman Mikell Cates, Bluffton’s Michael Griffith Architects; Savannah-based Earth Comfort Co., which installs geothermal systems, and Savannah-based SolarSmith, which installs and sells solar energy systems.
Cates is familiar with solar’s potential because he uses it to help power security cameras and Web-linked tourist cameras for his commercial ventures.
He was disappointed the Sustainable Fellwood partners, including the governmental ones, didn’t jump on the idea.
“If it’s Sustainable Fellwood, how sustainable is it?” he asked.
The wires are being readied for common areas only, such as hallways in the affordable housing buildings with proper orientation for solar.
Putting the wiring in place during construction is likely cheaper than doing it later. Star figures they’re saving at least the labor cost, plus the cost of the wiring and conduit itself.
“The thing is, it’s not even just the money,” Star said. “This will demonstrate it can be done. And with solar panels continuing to drop (in price) it’s something everyone should do – homebuilders, commercial buildings, warehouses. They’ll realize how easy it is to do this.”
His next goal is to make sure every building built with public funds is solar-ready.
“They’re tearing down Hitch Village and Savannah Gardens,” Star said. “Those buildings should all be made solar ready.”