For about a decade, Rick Alfandre has had the dream of creating a green, sustainable office on Main Street in New Paltz for his business, Alfandre Architecture. And now he’s going to realize his dream. “It’s a happy thing, this building,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
It certainly has been. For about a decade, the firm has been seeking to build “a small office on a small property in a somewhat dense setting” to showcase what it feels it does best. When Alfandre Architecture finally appeared seeking approval to build from the New Paltz Town Planning Board for this project in 2007, the national recession was beginning to choke off development.
Not everything has been smooth sailing. But the architect remains confident that he’s on a righteous path.
Alfandre Architecture, in business in New Paltz for 22 years, is known regionally for creating environmentally friendly buildings constructed with high-tech materials. The big white building under construction at 231 Main Street will allow the firm to inhabit the kind of space it would design, a showcase for potential clients to see clean-tech green building in action.
“The idea is to build for generations,” Alfandre explained. “We’re not only trying to make something that’s technologically advanced to the greatest extent, but also something that’s beautiful.” The financial payoff is expected to be long-term and continuing. For a green-tech pioneer and regional leader in innovative building, his project is an irresistible proposition.
Alfandre has been a key figure in the Hudson Valley branch of the U.S. Green Building Council, which meets monthly to discuss energy innovation. “I think what Rick represents is keeping the excitement alive,” said Pat Courtney, Kingston-based regional outreach coordinator for NYSERDA (the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority), the state agency that among other things is tasked with matching energy-project needs with funding opportunities and other economic development resources, creating partnerships to encourage local energy projects, and supporting regional economic development efforts.
New approach — Green Bank
New York government has invested in green technology through subsidies, rebates, grants and tax breaks. A few years ago, it seemed as though solar-energy technology would become an important new industry in the Hudson Valley. Courtney described Ulster County as “the beating heart of residential solar,” leading the state in the number of installations. (Now Westchester County, with a much larger population, leads.)
But the enthusiasm was also nationwide. According to Wired magazine, the federal government directed $44 billion into the category from late 2009 to late 2011.
The green-tech bubble burst. Locally, Precision Flow Technology (PFT) decreased its workforce drastically and then moved its operations overseas. The Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC) enlarged its expertise from solar energy to all manufacturing. Sunwize and several other green-tech firms cut back. Other players like Solartech Renewables, a solar-panel manufacturer in TechCity, and Spectrawatt, a solar-cell development company in Fishkill that had some backing from Intel, slashed payrolls. Prism Solar in Highland, which made unique solar cells, is now focusing on a broader portfolio.
Linuo, the big Chinese manufacturer of solar panels, was announced to have bought the IBM plant in East Fishkill for its American manufacturing. It never followed through. The debate over the Chinese dumping of solar panels to gain market share has been a rancorous one.
Private investment in the sector has continued to lag, particularly in New York. For investors, clean tech of the kind Alfandre is pursuing can often be capital-intensive, complicated to explain, and requires long validation times compared with e-commerce, ad tech or social media. Private investors are usually looking for a cheaper, quicker payoff.
In recent years, plentiful supplies of inexpensive American natural gas, new sources of domestic oil, extensive fracking of shale deposits and new pipelines to transport energy have all combined to reduce the competitiveness of investments in clean tech. But the state government is not giving up in trying to build and properly incentivize the sector. The high indirect environmental costs of traditional energy sources make an eventual transition inevitable.
So the state is pursuing new approaches. The most prominent recent one may be the Green Bank. NYSERDA plans to use approximately $165 million in uncommitted agency funds to spur private-sector investment in clean energy projects of a billion dollars. If approved by the state Public Service Commission, the initial capitalization will allow the state Green Bank to open for business and offer financial products in early 2014. Administrators of the bank hope to grow its capital base to make it a self-sustaining support mechanism for clean energy.
Panels at the right angle
Already roughed out inside and decked out with super-insulated Fox Blocks on the outside, the architect’s dream office is taking shape. Alfandre’s wife, nutritionist Vicki Koenig, and lawyer Joe Morrissey have signed up for space on the second floor. The architecture firm is looking for a tenant downstairs.
With about 5,400 square feet of office space, the building is on track to being LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Energy-conscious insulation, heavy-duty R-9 rated windows and an air-tight, mega-insulated roof are earning the structure that designation. Some 131 solar panels slated for the rooftop will generate almost 98 percent of the electricity used inside, Alfandre expects.
Tom Kacandes is a former state official in economic development for 13 years, a New Paltz resident, and a renewable energy expert who works for Westchester-based Solar Advantage Solutions, which is in essence subcontracting for the installation of Alfandre’s solar panels. This is the firm that is expecting the state rebate on Alfandre’s project.
Kacandes explained that installation of a roof pointed in the right direction with the right angle can make a big difference in solar-energy production. The technology is highly predictable. Surplus energy goes back into the utility grid. Is the investment risky? “What’s the risk the sun won’t shine?” Kacandes retorted.
The demand for state energy rebates has been robust, allowing NYSERDA to decrease the amount of the state incentive. The most recent round of applications, adjusted to allow for larger projects, was fully subscribed within a week, Kacandes said. Some are predicting a renaissance for domestic solar-panel manufacturing.
Design plays a large role in why Alfandre’s structure will be energy-efficient. “The building is actually designed to shade the windows as much as possible,” the architect said.
Building green means addressing drainage and stormwater issues. Stormwater runoff is a big concern in development. The building design is intended to ensure that less water leaves than when a house occupied the site. And the water that does exit the site will be cleaner. Porous paving stones in the parking lot will assist in drainage improvement.
A shower inside the office will be available to fitness buffs who’d like to bicycle to work. The building will be home to four functioning workplaces
Construction at the new 231 Main Street began early this spring and is expected to be completed late this year or early next year. Most people have seen the construction fencing and signs advertising the new building. One of the town’s bigger and more visible current construction projects, it has turned heads.
The place will probably become a must-see on the region’s grand tour of energy-efficient structures. According to the architect, tours and open houses will begin when the office opens. It’d be best to call first. To learn more, call 255-4774.