A solar array at the Rutland Area Bridge housing project on Woodstock Avenue is saving the Rutland Housing Authority hundreds of dollars a month on their work to provide transitional housing to area residents, according to the authority’s executive director, Kevin Loso.
Working with the Vermont Low Income Trust for Electricity, or VLITE, the contractor, SunCommon, which has an office in Rutland, added “as full a (solar) panel as the building could reasonably accommodate,” Loso said.
“December, January, February, the electric bill was somewhere around $1,800 to $2,000 a month. Then in March, after a full month of operation, our electric bill went down to something like $28,” Loso said.
He pointed out that bill was for a winter season.
“Hopefully, during the good weather, we’re going to be accumulating some credits because obviously, it takes less electricity to run the building during the summer and there’s more solar generation during the summer,” he said.
The solar power provides power for the heat pumps that provide the heat in the colder months and some cooling during the summer. Those pumps are backed up by electric-powered heating.
Tenants in the building do not pay separately for electricity but the less the housing authority has to pay for utilities, the more it can put toward the mission of housing for those in need in Rutland County.
The Bridge housing project was unusual because it was put together quickly during the pandemic and designed expressly to relieve some of the stress on motels and hotels that were put into emergency use to provide a place for homeless people to shelter and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The nine-unit project, which includes some designated for Rutland Regional Medical Center and the Mentor Connector, came into use in December.
Loso said as the housing project was being developed, the nonprofit’s staff looked at adding solar panels but only expected to be able to raise about half the money needed.
Around that time, staff from VLITE, approached members of the Vermont Housing Conservation Board looking for a project to support.
“The timing was just miraculous,” Loso said.
Gabrielle Malina, executive director for VLITE, which is based in Montpelier but serves all of Vermont, said the nonprofit has a mission to “advance the goals of Vermont’s comprehensive energy plan.” Since 2013, VLITE has issued grants in the total amount of about $8.3 million with an emphasis on making energy costs more affordable for low-income Vermonters.
“It was just that particular moment in time — seems like ages ago — but in 2020 there was coronavirus relief fund money and it was being used to, as Kevin said, fund projects that would create a more sustainable model for people without homes and provide more avenues during that emergency housing situation,” she said.
Malina said what the local housing authority was doing was a “really cool project” to create healthy homes and stable environments for people who wanted to transition to more permanent housing. She said it was also an “ideal candidate” for solar.
“This solar project and this prospect of being able to have more sustainable operational costs for this project really checked a lot of boxes. The board (of VLITE) was really pleased to be able to help with this,” she said.
Loso said one of the units dedicated to the Rutland hospital is in the process of being leased. The Mentor Connector unit is dedicated to a “Youth in Transition” program.
Most of the tenants have come to the Rutland Housing Authority looking for housing at the Bridge site to get “stabilized,” Loso said. At least one resident has been able to not only keep a job but expects a promotion because she was able to continue working with reliable housing as a support.
“It’s our goal and always has been our goal to be a stop along the way rather than a destination because as units open up, we’re able to extend tenancy to the next individual, the next family that is in need of housing. We’re focusing exclusively on the homeless population at this point,” he said.
The housing authority works with the Homeless Prevention Center of Rutland County, the Community Care Network, which included Rutland Mental Health, and BROC – Community Action in Southwestern Vermont to help tenants find permanent affordable housing.
“So far it’s been a great success,” Loso said.
Some of the other Rutland Housing Authority sites use solar and Loso said the staff would be looking at whether it’s appropriate for some of their other locations.