Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bank Plans Net Zero Energy Building

A South Jersey-based bank is breaking ground with a new way to save money.

TD Bank plans to open a solar-powered branch office in Florida that will produce more energy than it consumes. When it opens this spring, the so-called "net-zero energy building" will be the first such bank in the nation, according to TD.

But the Fort Lauderdale office -- outfitted with hundreds of solar panels -- will do more than turn sunshine into electricity. It also will reflect a growing push by companies to combine economics and the environment.

"It's something that you're seeing more and more," said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter.

For instance, Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical giant, last year installed more than 13,000 ground-mounted solar panels at a company site in Titusville, Mercer County. The solar complex, one of some 20 worldwide for the firm, makes about 70 percent of the energy needed by several J&J companies at the site.

Similarly, a ShopRite store in Garwood, Union County, added more than 1,000 rooftop solar panels last year, producing enough power for its refrigeration and lighting needs.

"Walmarts are doing solar, too," observed Tittel. The giant discounter has solar panels on about 30 stores in California and Hawaii, with plans to expand its program to Arizona, according to the company's website.

TD's Florida store should generate at least 100,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. That's about 3,000 more kilowatt-hours than the office, or store, will need.

"Using energy is unavoidable," said Jacquelynn Henke, TD's Real Estate Green Strategy Officer. "Our goal is to use it wisely and make good choices as to where our energy comes from."

Solar power at the Florida store will come from 10 multipanel modules on the roof and 244 modules on the surrounding property. Ninety solar panels will cover the drive-through canopy.

The site's electrical output each year should be enough to power nine average homes. "This is power we will not have to purchase from the local utility," said Henke, who said TD expects to build more net-zero stores.

The Florida store will not tap its solar power directly. Instead, its electricity will flow into the local utility grid "and the store will draw from the grid as necessary," said Henke.

TD plans to build more "net-zeroes," although no target number has been set. It expects an even greater focus on stores that qualify for LEED certification -- basically, a standard that recognizes building for overall environmental performance. "We will build a majority of LEED stores moving forward," said Henke, who noted TD's new design standards have boosted energy efficiency at new stores by almost 50 percent.

For instance, solar panels on drive-through canopies can produce almost 20 percent of a building's energy needs. TD now has two such banks in New Jersey -- in Toms River and Denville, Morris County -- and plans four more over the next year.

TD, with about 1,250 banks along the East Coast, does not disclose the cost of its energy investments. But Henke asserts the money's a good investment.

The Florida store's solar panels will pay for themselves in about seven years, but have an expected life span of about 15 years, she noted. TD also is applying for federal and state rebates that will boost its savings.

"If we can build more stores with solar panels . . . for the same price or less than the stores we used to build, then that just makes good sense."

TD, which also has headquarters in Portland, Maine, last year became the largest U.S.-based bank to be carbon neutral. It did that in part by purchasing renewable-energy credits to offset carbon emissions from fossil fuels used in its daily operations.

That included payments to wind-power facilities, which indirectly power all of the firm's ATMs.


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