The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing about a “solar secure” recreation center in Brooklyn and a “high performance” school in Kentucky that are benefiting their communities as well as those who use the buildings. This briefing showed how sustainable public buildings can collectively reduce emissions and clear the air, especially in disadvantaged communities where energy utilities are often sited. Case studies featured buildings—both in urban and in rural areas—that are improving public health and driving economic growth, while protecting and serving their communities and neighborhoods even during emergencies.

This briefing featured a retrofit project in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City and a net-zero energy high school in rural Kentucky, as well as projects incorporating sustainability principles in Prince George's County, Maryland. After being devastated by Hurricane Sandy and left without power for days, the historic Red Hook Recreation Center was transformed into a community space and safe refuge with the installation of a solar power and battery system. For vocational students near Lexington, Kentucky, the Locust Trace AgriScience Center embodies the principles of sustainability. With daylit classrooms and low-impact land development, the buildings and campus provide hands-on learning of new skills for today’s jobs with minimal energy/water use and low carbon emissions. The Redevelopment Authority (RDA) of Prince George's County, MD, is developing mixed-income/mixed-use projects and affordable housing in urban communities near transit centers using sustainability principles that promote walkability, green design, and energy and water efficiency.


Moderator — Ellen Vaughan, Policy Director, Sustainable Buildings, EESI

  • This briefing will show how sustainable buildings—featuring energy efficiency and renewable energy—can make entire communities more resilient.
  • Sustainable buildings can also help address other policy goals, including safe and healthy communities, equitable economic development, environmental stewardship, and environmental justice.
  • Buildings account for 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption and over 70 percent of electricity use. Buildings that are energy efficient and use renewable energy can help states reduce emissions and comply with the Clean Power Plan.


Matt de la Houssaye, Director, NY Office & Coalition for Resource Recovery, Global Green USA

  • Solar panels located in community centers can provide basic functionality to entire communities after a power outage. Residents can recharge and use cellphones, lights, laptops, small refrigeration systems (which can be necessary for critical medical supplies), and other essential electrical devices.
  • The sun is always there and free: even if the power grid goes down, the local community center can still run basic emergency response operations and coordinate with the larger disaster response system.
  • During emergencies, batteries can store excess power generated by grid-connected solar panels. Otherwise, such panels might need to be disconnected since their excess power would be routed to the grid where it might electrocute crews repairing the power lines.
  • Global Green USA installed solar panels and an AC to DC inverter in the Rockaway Beach Surf Club (Far Rockaway, NY), which proved invaluable in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, even without a battery system. An inverter is well-suited to small community centers: it is small in size and cost ($3,000 retail) and easy to install, yet it provides up to 1.5 kW of electricity, allowing residents to recharge their phones. A policy question is whether federal disaster assistance would enable communities to invest in technologies like this to help them weather future emergencies.
  • For the Red Hook Recreation Center (Brooklyn, NY), Global Green USA installed solar panels and batteries to create a micro-grid, which can isolate itself when the main power goes out. A 'Resilient Room' features heating, cooling, electrical outlets, a television, and a fridge, all potentially powered by solar panels and a battery backup.
  • Community centers can also contribute to solar energy/technology education, by introducing children (and other residents) to solar power and its attributes, including greater resilience for our communities.
  • Challenges include how to create isolated loads that can function independently of the main electrical load, and how to place batteries in existing housing.


Susan Stokes Hill, Principal, Tate Hill Jacobs Architects, Inc

  • Kentucky, and the Fayette County Public Schools district in particular, is committed to funding net-zero energy public schools. [UPDATE: Fayette County Public Schools was awarded the U.S. Green Building Council's 'Best of Green Schools' award in the School System category on March 31, 2016. According to USGBC, "The Fayette County Public Schools have embraced the three-pillar model of sustainability to holistically address environmental literacy, building performance and student wellness, and leverages their students’ passion and leadership in all three areas."]
  • The Locust Trace AgriScience Center near Lexington, Kentucky, had been envisioned as a model for green, sustainable practices from the get-go. It is part of the Fayette County Public Schools district.
  • An integrated design team was critical to meeting the sustainability goals. Included at the table were the owner, end users (teachers and students), community partners, architects, engineers, contractors, building operations and maintenance personnel.
  • Several sustainable design standards and guidelines were used, including ASHRAE's and EPA's EnergyStar.
  • The key project goals were: the buildings would serve as teaching tools, would suit their location, would have minimal footprints, and would achieve net-zero energy, water, and waste.
  • Reducing energy consumption was key, and traditional design techniques were used, such as taking into account building orientation to minimize the need for heating and cooling.
  • The buildings also feature insulating concrete form (ICF) construction, solar panels, geothermal water source heat pumps, customized temperature zoning and demand-control ventilation, and tubular daylighting systems and controls.
  • A "cultural change" was also sought, to make sure the building's users internalized energy-saving behaviors.
  • Similar buildings typically use 34,000 BTUs per square foot per year (34 kBtu/sf yr). The target for Locust Trace was to reduce that by more than half, to 16 kBtu/sf yr. The actual performance of the building is even better, at 14 kBtu/sf yr. AND there was a 50 percent drop in the anticipated cost, thanks largely to the fall in solar panel prices.
  • The complex has 574 solar panels, generating 175 kW of electricity. There are also 7,400 square feet of solar thermal panels, producing 1 million BTUs for water heating, etc... This was the 3rd largest solar thermal array in North America when it was installed.
  • The Center has several stormwater management strategies, such as permeable pavers, a vegetated roof, rain gardens, and water recycling (rainwater is harvested from roofs to irrigate crops and water livestock).
  • Sewage is treated onsite, in a wetland (with a traditional septic tank and leachfield system for comparison).


Monty Cooper, Attorney, Sedgwick LLP; Chairman of the Board of Directors, Redevelopment Authority of Prince George’s County (MD)

  • Incorporating sustainability principles into buildings helps enhance communities, from raising property values to creating jobs.
  • Cooper gave an overview of Prince George’s County:
    • Home prices are above the national average but below those in neighboring counties
    • Residents have long commuting times
    • It is underdeveloped in transit and walkability compared to the rest of the DC metro area.
  • The Redevelopment Authority of Prince George's County has several goals for its projects: walkability and public spaces, green design, energy and water efficiency, and affordability. Most of its projects achieve the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Silver rating.
  • The Authority's strategy is to use mixed-income housing and infill redevelopment. It is focusing on affordable housing and smart transit design.
  • Infill development has several positive economic impacts when it is located near transit centers. It leads to an increase in property taxes and improved transit for communities.
  • Cooper provided several examples of Redevelopment Authority projects, such as Glenarden Apartments, Suitland Town Center (an Eco-District), Studio 3807 (an artists' community), the 3300 block of Rhode Island Avenue, 210 Maryland Park Drive, and 3413 Glenn Drive (a 100-year house that has been retrofitted to become a net-zero energy home meeting LEED Platinum and Energy Star criteria).
  • Upcoming opportunities include Suitland net-zero energy homes, Suitland Town Center town homes, Suitland Town Center senior housing, and net-zero energy homes in Capitol Heights and Fairmount Heights, MD.
  • The Redevelopment Authority is currently seeking a developer to turn the former Glenn Dale Hospital (a vacant, 60-acre historic campus) into a sustainable, continuing care retirement community.


This was the third in a series of EESI briefings examining environmental justice as it relates to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Clean Power Plan (CPP), the nation's first-ever regulation limiting carbon pollution from power plants. States are being encouraged by EPA's Clean Power Plan to reduce energy demand as a way to cut carbon pollution. Though the Plan's implementation has been temporarily suspended by the Supreme Court, at least 22 states have voluntarily decided to press ahead. The CPP rewards states that implement energy efficiency projects in low-income communities through the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP). Building and retrofitting schools, community centers, affordable housing and other buildings to be energy efficient, self-sufficient, safe and healthful can make communities more resilient to extreme weather, economic downturns and other hardships—while also being key strategies for Clean Power Plan compliance.

This webinar was part of a series examining environmental justice perspectives on the Clean Power Plan: