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City-backed loan program for clean energy relaunches at local biotech firm
Indoor Biotechnologies solar panels @ Silk Building, Dec. 2017
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Photo courtesy of Sigora Solar
Indoor Biotechnologies installed solar panels on the roof of its headquarters in the Silk Mills building.
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Josh Mandell | Monday, January 08, 2018 at 8:02 p.m.

Indoor Biotechnologies has outfitted the Silk Mills building in downtown Charlottesville with ultra-precise climate control systems and freezers that can reach minus 80 degrees Celsius.

“As you can imagine, that requires a lot of energy,” said Martin Chapman, president and CEO of Indoor Biotechnologies. “We are looking to expand sustainable energy within the company, and within the city of Charlottesville.” 

Chapman’s company, which manufactures highly purified allergens for allergy research and diagnostics, recently installed a 155.25-kilowatt solar energy system that will provide half of its power needs. 

Indoor Biotechnologies is paying for the installation through a low-cost financing mechanism created by the city of Charlottesville and the Local Energy Alliance Program to promote clean energy improvements.

“Our goal is to transition Charlottesville and the communities we serve into a clean energy future,” Lesley Fore, LEAP’s executive director, said Thursday at a news conference at Indoor Biotechnologies. 

The city and LEAP have collaborated since 2011 to offer financing programs for local businesses to make various clean energy improvements. However, these initiatives had largely failed to gain traction until last year. 

“[Indoor Biotechnologies] is the first project we have done after many years of trying to use our first grant from the city,” Fore said.

LEAP originally administered a revolving loan fund created with a $500,000 grant from the City Council. It awarded a single $280,000 loan in 2012 for the rooftop solar panels at the Main Street Arena. Fore said the loan has since been repaid in full. 

In 2014, LEAP reallocated $200,000 from the remaining city funds to a loan loss reserve through the University of Virginia Community Credit Union. This gave LEAP access to a $1 million capital pool for loans to support nonresidential energy efficiency and renewable energy installations. 

“That was expected to be a more attractive and accessible project,” said City Councilor Mike Signer. “But despite that reworking, there wasn’t any [loan] activity.”

In 2016, the LEAP governance board moved to primarily use loan program funds to cover the interest on loans from other financial institutions. 

LEAP’s Commercial Clean Energy Loan Program is expected to pay the full interest on Indoor Biotechnologies’ loan from Pioneer Bank, estimated at $60,000. 

Chapman said the solar energy system at Indoor Biotechnologies cost more than $250,000. 

“With discounts, federal and city tax credits, depreciation and the LEAP interest-free loan [factored in], the return on investment is about five years,” he said. 

MS Events also is using the LEAP loan program to help pay for solar panels it installed recently at its warehouse near Pantops. Fore said Shenandoah Joe Coffee Roasters is planning to participate in the program later this year. 

“We are really excited to see this convergence of activity,” Fore said. 

Indoor Biotechnologies moved into the Silk Mills building at 700 Harris St. in 2015. Last year, the company purchased the building, which contains the offices of 15 other businesses.

The Silk Mills building opened in 1895 as a textile factory. It also has been used to manufacture pencils and circuit boards. 

“There’s been a progression of industry here for over a century, which we are pleased to be part of,” Chapman said. 

Charlottesville-based Sigora Solar installed the photovoltaic system at Indoor Biotechnologies.

“It’s particularly fascinating to see historic buildings in Charlottesville going solar,” said Jon Proffitt, director of business development for Sigora Solar. “The flat roof on [the 1942 addition to] the Silk Mills building was terrific for solar. ... We can utilize every square inch of it.” 

The City Council last year approved a zoning text amendment to clarify allowable locations and heights for solar energy systems. 

Signer recently was chosen by his fellow councilors to serve on the LEAP governance board in 2018.

“I’m excited about this new assignment,” Signer said. “[Clean energy] is an area that connects the economy, innovation and sustainability.”

During Signer’s tenure as mayor of Charlottesville, the city joined the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, pledging to uphold goals embodied in the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

 

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