Make us your home page
Instagram

Experts say 'green' building in Florida will profit with new emphasis on low-cost energy

As the economic base shifts, “green” architect Steve Klar sees great opportunity ahead for green builders and contractors.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

As the economic base shifts, “green” architect Steve Klar sees great opportunity ahead for green builders and contractors.

CLEARWATER — For more than 15 years, Steve Klar has earned a living by helping others go green.

It's been an uphill battle, though, as Klar has rejected business deals that don't live up to his environmentalist ideals and challenged the status quo on energy use long before doing so was trendy.

But the architect — perhaps like many Florida developers these days — has been losing sleep. "How can I make money in this economy?" he wonders.

With financing often tough to secure and unemployment sitting at its highest point in 30 years, area home and commercial construction has vanished. But in the downturn and the resulting political calls to transform the country's economy, green builders and contractors sense opportunity.

Area green builders and contractors say double-digit growth in recent years is, among other factors, a result of climbing energy prices, government incentives and the falling price of green technology.

"Who knows what we'll pay for energy in five years?" Klar said. "It won't go down, but it could go through the roof."

Barack Obama's election last year brought renewed hope, Klar and others in the industry say. With an economy in flux, the new president brought renewable energy into the spotlight. With that spotlight came a chance to succeed.

"Pretty soon, we'll see more companies constructing solar panels, and workers building wind turbines, and car companies manufacturing fuel-efficient cars," Obama said in April, describing renewable energy as one of four building blocks for an evolving U.S. economy.

"Investors will put some money into a new energy technology, and small business will open to start selling it."

That message was directed at people like Klar, who runs a small architectural firm with his wife in Clearwater. He has preached energy-saving efforts since he was a student at the University of Minnesota.

There, he said, people were more open to embracing new ideas and technology.

"In Minnesota, the answer is 'why not?" he said. "Here the answer is 'why?' "

Among their projects, Klar's team recently finished work on a building in Pinellas Park. That building, home to Surgical Pathology Laboratories, includes a host of energy-saving features, including receiving 30 percent of its power from the sun.

In another project, Klar recently designed a building for Pinellas County's Homeless Emergency Project, which provides temporary and transitional housing for individuals and families in Clearwater. The building, currently under construction on N Betty Lane, will be partially powered by the sun.

"We're just looking to do more with less," said Libby Stone, the nonprofit's vice president.

The organization expects to save 30 percent in utility bills each month with the new building. In turn, money saved will further help the homeless.

"It's intelligent growth," Stone said.

The $2.7 million building project has already received $800,000 in government grants, Stone said, and could land an extra $730,000 from Obama's economic stimulus package.

Federal grants and tax rebates for renewable energy have been central to Obama's economic stimulus plan. Environmentalists cheered when his plan allocated $30 billion in energy-related initiatives. If approved, a proposed cap-and-trade plan could be further reason for businesses to embrace Klar's environmentalism.

Obama's message is echoed by energy advocates who say — despite recent government initiatives — Florida lags in solar production.

"They don't call it the Sunshine State for nothing," said Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, an advocacy group that promotes solar energy

Despite the state's sunny climate, Florida does not rank among the top 10 states in terms of cumulative solar energy capacity, according to data provided by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

But the price of solar equipment is dropping, Browning said. During the high-cost energy peak last summer, the demand for solar panels jumped. Now, a glut of panels, is driving the market price down. Some report selling equipment at half the price compared with recent years.

Even so, Solar Direct, a Bradenton solar equipment outfitter, grew by 50 percent during the past four years.

"In terms of Florida, it's a whole new industry," said Dale Gulden, the company's CEO. Greater resource conservation must play a part in Florida's economic recovery, he said.

For consumers looking to economize, green construction is a path to cheaper utility bills, builders say.

Josh Bomstein, vice president at Clearwater's Creative Contractors firm, said economics is consumers' greatest impetus. Other factors, like reversing global warming, play a role in the minds of consumers. But, he added, a low price tag is the strongest sales pitch.

Even as the development bubble burst in 2008, Creative Contractors' green business grew by 40 percent.

Calls for green building are more than a fad, Bomstein said. The triggers for change are too strong.

"I don't see this going away."

Brian Spegele can be reached at bspegele@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4154.

Learn more

Check out the Florida

Solar Energy Center at www.fsec.ucf.edu .

Experts say 'green' building in Florida will profit with new emphasis on low-cost energy 06/12/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 12, 2009 7:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa is 15th-most popular city to move to with U-Haul

    Markets

    TAMPA —Tampa is undoubtedly a destination point, at least according to U-Haul.

    Tampa is the No. 15 destination for people moving with U-Haul trucks. | Times file photo
  2. Florida's economy growing faster than other big states and far better than U.S. overall

    Business

    When it comes to economic growth, Florida's running alongside the leading states and well ahead of the United States as a whole.

  3. Westshore Marina District project takes shape with another acquisition

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — One of Tampa Bay's prime waterfront areas took another major step toward redevelopment Friday as WCI Communities bought 2.35 acres in Westshore Marina District.

    WCI Communities, Lennar's high-end subsidiary,has paid $2.5 million for 2.35 acres in the Westshore Marina District for 35 townhomes. WCI is under contract  to buy an additional 9.5 acres.
[BTI Partners]
  4. Posh Guy Harvey RV park to open in Tampa Bay with $250,000 cottages

    Business

    HOLIDAY — Love those Guy Harvey T-shirts with the soaring marlins? In the not too distant future, you might be able to kick back in your own Guy Harvey cottage in the first-ever Guy Harvey RV park.

    Renderings of the clubhouse and an RV cottage site of the planned Guy Harvey Outpost Club & Resort Tarpon Springs.
[Guy Harvey Outpost Collection]
  5. Port Tampa Bay secures $9 million grant to deepen Big Bend Channel

    Business

    Port Tampa Bay has secured a $9 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the widening and deepening of the Big Bend Channel in southern Hillsborough County.