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St. Petersburg's first 'net zero energy' commercial space set to open

Imagine your business' monthly electric bill arrives and it reads, "total cost: $0."

A 5,000-square-foot building under construction on St. Petersburg's Central Avenue is set to become the city's first commercial space to produce more of its own electricity than it will use from the power grid.

"This building is designed to be a net zero energy building," Tom Hall, whose firm All Florida Management is engineering and building the facility, said during a news conference Friday to showcase the building. "This is quite a big day for us."

The building sports a 40-kilowatt solar panel carport and will include a 50-kilowatt solar panel roof. The solar carport sits behind the building at the corner of Central Avenue and 20th Street.

In addition to solar energy, the building features a geothermal heating and air conditioning system and LED lighting, making it a certified green building.

"Obviously, this is the future," said Chris Steinocher, president and chief executive officer at the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. "If we turn a blind eye to the technology, we're going to be left behind on this."

The $545,000 solar project would help produce "net zero" electric usage because the 90-kilowatt system is expected to produce more electricity than the building will use.

The excess energy produced during the day would offset the cost of any electricity the building uses from the power grid at night.

Grants, including one from Progress Energy's SunSense Solar program, covered half of the cost of the solar project.

Brian Hartley, owner of the building, said he is negotiating with six to seven tenants in the "green industry" but has not finalized those agreements.

The project is part of an effort by the Farias Marketing Group, led by Mario Farias, and contractor Jeff Adams to increase solar power in St. Petersburg and throughout the state.

"This is basically a building that we want to highlight to show what can be done here," Farias said. "Solar is not a fad. It's here. It's going to stay."

Added Adams: "This is not pixie dust and magic. This is technology that people can use. This is real-world technology."

Farias and Adams have been courting a group of German businessmen to bring a solar manufacturing operation to the city that would create 150 jobs.

Germany is a global leader in the use of renewable energy, though the government recently announced cuts to solar power subsidies.

Even so, Germany installed 7.5 gigawatts (roughly the equivalent of seven nuclear reactors) of solar power in 2011, compared to 2.7 gigawatts in all of the United States during the same period, said Uwe Sterling, one of the German businessmen who attended Friday's news conference.

Standing under the solar panel-covered carport, Sterling said his partners are eager to bring the manufacturing operation to Florida, if those in Tallahassee would follow other states in establishing standards for renewable energy that would make it economical.

The St. Petersburg project, Sterling said, is just one example of the potential for solar power in Florida.

"I think this is the right way to do it," Sterling said. "If you think about your state … Florida, sunshine."

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@tampabay.com or (722) 892-2332.

St. Petersburg's first 'net zero energy' commercial space set to open 05/11/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 11, 2012 9:36pm]
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