How does a Cape Cod nonprofit become a micro-energy power plant? The Community Development Partnership in Eastham is adding that unusual feather to its cap by expanding the use of solar power on its affordable housing units. The combined kilowatts generated by the project will be shared across its entire portfolio and help reduce energy costs for over 50 families.
The project, funded in part by the Cape Cod Foundation, installed solar panels on several rental units, as well as employing other methods to make the structures more energy efficient. “I’m delighted the Foundation decided to invest in this project,” said Elizabeth Bridgewater, CDP executive director. “The Cape Cod Foundation’s gift was very tangible and helped bring in other funders.”
The effort, which the CDP calls the Real Return Initiative, has ushered in a new day in how the agency does business. “This effort has deepened commitment to steward our precious natural resources while increasing the affordability of housing in the region,” Bridgewater said. “Another bonus of the project is that it will put our contractors to work which fulfills the goal to produce triple bottom line results.”
The work became a kind of puzzle where all the pieces fit perfectly. Bridgewater explained that solar heat and other upgrades lead to lower utility bills for clients. “In some of our housing units, the electricity bills will be almost nothing,” she said. “This allows money to be redirected to other family priorities.” CDP rental units currently house a total of 131 adults and children.
The Real Return Initiative is building upon the attention and accolades received from the recent development of a Platinum LEED certified rental housing neighborhood in Harwich, which earned an honorable mention in the national HOME Doorknocker Award competition conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) every five years. The Cape Cod Foundation grant supplemented other sources of funding, including a $100,000 grant from TD Bank, $50,000 from the Harold & Ella Brehm Family Foundation, and $30,000 from the Town of Harwich.
The Foundation’s original involvement was as the funder of a strategic planning session the CDP held in 2010. “We stripped away program labels and asked, ‘how can we use our talent and capacity in new ways to fulfill our mission?’” Bridgewater related. The staff and board began to see alternative energy as a prime focus area, a discovery which led to the Real Return Initiative. The Foundation’s $5,000 grant to the initiative confirmed the CDP’s belief in the project and lent it credibility. As Bridgewater said, “It made a very powerful package to take to the bank.”
By selling the extra solar energy to N-Star, the CDP makes money, an anticipated annual revenue of $19,000 to $34,000. This part of the puzzle got a tailwind from a 2008 Massachusetts law, the Green Communities Act, which requires that 15 percent of electricity be supplied by new renewable power facilities by 2020.