How many Skylines does
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it take to change the
bon footprint? rentalhousingbusiness.ca | 13
iven that energy costs are on the rise, homeowners, landlords and submetered renters are all looking for ways to reduce their energy usage. Replacing older incandescent and CFL light bulbs and fixtures with LED equivalents is one of the easiest ways to lower your energy bills. Thanks to the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), landlords can take advantage of incentives and rebates to reduce the costs of making energy-efficient upgrades to their buildings. All rental property owners and managers can reduce their carbon footprint and lower their energy bills by following the lead of the Skyline Group of Companies on a much smaller scale. The 18-year-old real estate management company has turned an easy solution—like replacing light bulbs—into a significant investment in energy efficiency by installing more than 330,000 LED light bulbs in its multi-family buildings, which wasn’t that easy. In addition to reducing its carbon footprint and energy bill, Skyline is investing in renewables on a much larger scale (see sidebar on Anvil Crawler), which is turning heads in the rental housing industry and beyond.
Background The Skyline Group of Companies, based in Guelph, Ontario, owns and manages nearly 200 multi-family rental properties across Canada. It focuses on acquiring its buildings in the country’s secondary and tertiary communities. Skyline’s approach to property management has always involved looking for efficient and environmentally sustainable ways to add value to its properties and improve the tenant experience. For example, in previous years, the company had retrofitted its buildings with more than 100,000 CFL light bulbs. At the time, these bulbs were much more energy efficient than the older incandescent bulbs that were in the buildings, and the retrofit ultimately helped to reduce Skyline’s energy usage and costs.
“It may go without saying, but innovation never stops,” said Roy Jason Ashdown, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Skyline Group of Companies. “Sustainability is a journey, rather than a destination. We know that we’ll never get to a place where we have done enough and we can stop investing in new technology.”
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The Illumination Project Orchestration for the Illumination Project began in late 2016. At that time, the cost of LED bulbs had dropped enough to make the retrofit’s projected ROI attractive enough to move forward. Skyline prepared to move ahead and launch the project in early 2017, with the goal of replacing more than 330,000 light bulbs within six months. The Illumination Project was expected to cost approximately $2 million, and save more than 10 million kWh per year (which is the equivalent of powering 913 single-family homes).
“In the case of the approximately 3,000 Skyline apartment suites that are sub-metered, the LED retrofit is solely benefiting the tenants, since their units will be outfitted with the new bulbs as well at no cost to them,” said Ashdown. “Put simply, these 3,000 families will see their hydro bills reduced each month for free. This is a $150,000 act of goodwill and green stewardship that we’re pleased to implement.”
The Illumination Project required a lot of upfront planning, as it involved installing LEDs in more than 180 buildings and 16,764 suites. Skyline had to involve employees throughout its entire organization—more than 500 staff—to make sure everything went according to plan. The company sought shipping and storage solutions for the new LED bulbs, and facilitated safe recycling for the old bulbs. It also provided training for its hundreds of building staff, which helped to ensure that the project ran as smoothly as possible.
“Across all the corners of our company, our ‘Skyliners’ have worked diligently to make the project a success,” said Ashdown. “We depended on their hard work and enthusiasm to get the job done.”
Anvil Crawler Development Corp. Skyline’s Illumination Project is a large-scale initiative that will produce significant monetary savings and greatly reduce the company’s environmental impact. However, this project is just one aspect of its sustainable practices, which go beyond surfacing value in its rental properties. In late 2015, Skyline launched Anvil Crawler Development Corp., a green energy company, for the purpose of investing in renewables on an even larger scale. Anvil Crawler has developed and installed several energy production and conservation products, including 19 250-kW solar barns across Ontario, a fleet of micro-Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems, and the Anvil Power House, a portable and scalable solar energy facility. The Power House has a solar roof, internal battery storage system and Wi-Fi capabilities, and its interior space can be customoutfitted to serve as many different types of shelters – from a fully-heated office space in a remote mining area in northern Canada to a fully-powered family home on the African plains. Applications for Anvil Crawler include the rental housing industry. The company is currently developing hybrid solutions that can assist landlords with peak shaving. The solutions might include a combination of solar power, micro CHP, wind power and battery storage, so landlords can actively combat over-peak demand charges. Skyline has completed 16 micro-CHP installs in several regions across Ontario. It has also completed applications for 200 additional properties. CHP (or co-generation) supplies hydro to buildings through efficient natural gas generators, and uses the by-product of hot water to provide heat for buildings, which virtually eliminates wasted energy from the process. One CHP system can supply up to 90 per cent of a property’s hydro needs. “Skyline has taken the industry lead when it comes to energy management in its portfolio of buildings through implementing measures that lead to long-term sustainable benefits,” says Peter Ormond, Energy Manager, Alectra Utilities. “This clear leadership provides a benchmark that will motivate other landlords and facilities to follow Skyline’s example.” Although micro-CHP technology has been popular in Europe for decades, it is relatively new to Canada. Getting buy-in from hydro companies has been a challenge. Horizon
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Utilities (now Alectra Utilities) saw major potential in the energy-saving capabilities of CHP, and assisted Skyline with its first prototype sites in St. Catharines. In addition to its first installs, Skyline has CHP systems at several properties in Niagara Falls, Chatham and Guelph. Alectra recently presented Skyline with an Innovation Award to recognize the numerous ways in which it has improved its energy savings and sustainability in its St. CatharinesNiagara properties. “This award is usually reserved for larger industries; however, it puts Skyline on the map to lead the charge when it comes to energy management in the rental housing business,” says Ormond. “Skyline has followed a successful formula to first reduce their load through deep energy conservation measures, and then to go beyond by producing their own energy through combined heat and power systems.”
Partnership with London Hydro The Illumination Project also had a vast geographic scope. Skyline owns properties within the regions of 27 different local utility distribution companies (LDCs). Trying to manage so many different relationships on such a large project could have resulted in some major stalls. With this in mind, Skyline took the opportunity to partner with London Hydro for the Illumination Project. The partnership ensured that the project moved forward and avoided as much red tape as possible.
London Hydro took the lead in coordinating procedures with the other Ontario LDCs. It also removed many barriers to participation, and handled the applications for programs on Skylineâ€™s behalf. The utility did a lot of the legwork behind the scenes, which ensured that the LED installation work ran as smoothly as possible. As a result, London Hydro is helping more than two dozen LDCs across Ontario to meet their annual CDM targets, while also helping more than 35,000 people across Canada to become greener with no more effort than allowing their bulbs to be switched.
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“We’re proud to be Skyline’s primary partner in this endeavour,” said Hans Schreff, Manager of Conservation and Demand Management, London Hydro. “We’ve had a multi-year business relationship with Skyline and our partnership is paying off for everyone.”
Incentives and rebates Over its many years of following environmentally friendly practices, Skyline has learned that it can apply for energy rebates and incentives to help make its retrofits more affordable. It should be noted that these rebates are not only available to landlords, but to homeowners and tenants as well. In fact, LED programs are primarily designed to help small landlords and homeowners. The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) provides incentives on many different types of LED retrofits – whether that involves changing one light bulb or 330,000 of them.
“There are multiple benefits when organizations such as Skyline take advantage of the IESO’s Save on Energy incentive programs for projects like this,” says Terry Young, Vice-President, Conservation and Corporate Relations for the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO). “It helps tenants manage electricity use and reduce costs, and it helps the electricity system overall to reduce demand. We commend Skyline for taking on the project.”
Conclusion Skyline’s Illumination Project is a large undertaking with significant financial and environmental benefits. It’s also part of an award-winning, multi-faceted investment in renewables, which will have a long-term impact on the company’s carbon footprint and the rental housing industry. Its strategies can be replicated on a much smaller scale – even installing LED light bulbs can have tangible results. The first step for landlords is to look at their bills, and determine what is currently available in the marketplace. By implementing green technologies in their buildings, landlords will not only reduce their carbon footprint and attract more environmentally conscious tenants, they will take a crucial step toward elevating the rental housing industry. “From 6-plexes to 600-plexes, all rental buildings are valued on income – regardless of the project’s scale, the value of the property will improve,” said Ashdown. “It’s important to embrace technology, to invest in innovation, and to take advantage of what’s available now.”∎ 22 | may/june 2017