Net-zero energy apartments debut in Rotterdam

Solara is developer David Bruns' second net-zero project in Rotterdam
The first building in the Solara near-zero apartment complex is complete.
The first building in the Solara near-zero apartment complex is complete.

ROTTERDAM — From insulated concrete panels in the exterior walls to solar panel arrays over carports with electric vehicle charging stations, the new Solara apartment complex is walking the walk when it comes to saving energy.

So much so that developer David Bruns and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority expect the Solara buildings to be net-zero, meaning the complex will generate as much energy as it uses, thereby reducing the need to burn fossil fuels for the state’s energy grid.

Solara is the second net-zero project done in Rotterdam by Bruns Realty Group. They are the Capital Region’s first net-zero apartments.

“This is literally a preview of what the state’s clean energy future will look like,” said Alicia Barton, NYSERDA’s president and CEO.

Barton and other NYSERDA officials joined Bruns and a variety of other people Tuesday at a ribbon-cutting for the first building to be completed in the 248-unit apartment complex. The first residents are expected to move in next month. Other buildings in the complex remain under construction.

The Solara complex is located at 291 North Thompson St., not far from its intersection with Burdeck Road. Just down Burdeck Road is Bruns’ netZero Village, which opened in 2015 with 156 units, and was successful enough for Bruns to pursue another net-zero project.

“Solara is an exciting new development that builds upon the success of our first net-zero development, netZero Village, with better performance, high-tech and luxury amenities and features,” Bruns said. “These two projects prove that low-carbon development is not only commercially viable but profitable and hugely popular with our customers.”

Solara is offering one-bedroom apartments starting at $1,350 per month; two-bedroom, one-bath apartments starting at $1,650; and two-bedroom, two-bath apartments for $1,725 per month, according to a marketing brochure. All utilities are included. Bruns said the project will be profitable and he appreciates the attention it is receiving.

“The more these developments are talked about, the more likely other developers will take the leap,” Bruns said.

The cost of the Solara complex is expected to exceed $30 million, but NYSERDA has provided about $2 million in direct assistance through various energy-efficiency programs. The project also qualifies for federal tax credits, NYSERDA officials said.

New York property owners spend an estimated $30 billion annually on heating and cooling buildings. Increasing buildings’ energy efficiency is considered an essential part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030. NYSERDA is offering incentives for construction of zero-energy buildings; there are 132 statewide, including 27 other multi-family housing buildings.

The Solara complex relies on a variety of technologies to be energy-efficient, including insulated walls, high-efficiency appliances, LED lighting, heat pumps and solar-heated hot water. Apartment awnings are also designed at an angle to take advantage of direct heat from the low sun in winter, and shade the high sun in summer.

Net-zero buildings may use more energy than they produce at some times of year, but at others will produce more energy than they need, sending that extra energy into the power grid. The goal is to have the buildings average no net energy use when measured annually.

“One of the most common questions I get is, are net-zero buildings real?” said Matthew Brown, a NYSERDA program manager. “Yes, they are, and here it is.”

Mark Kruse, president of the American Institute of Architects New York State, said the AIA’s goal is that all new building construction be energy-neutral by 2030. Designing energy-efficiency into a new building is much less expensive than retrofitting older buildings to be more energy-efficient.

NYSERDA will be providing $15 million to expand the state’s Net-Zero Energy for Economic Development program, and it recently launched a $30 million “Buildings of Excellence” competition, aimed at encouraging construction of high-efficiency multi-family housing.

“We think it will be a game-changer in the net-zero multi-family space,” Barton said.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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