WESTERLY — A  rooftop solar panel array that will soon be operational at McQuade's Ace Hardware is expected to save more than $1 million in electricity costs over 20 years. The store's owners say the power project, combined with a renovation of the facility, is ushering in a new era for the family owned business.

Good timing, relationships between local business owners, and a too-good-to-turn-down loan from the Rhode Infrastructure Bank all came together to make the project possible, said Mark McQuade, the store's general manager, in an interview on Tuesday.

While he had received a handful of offers and proposals for rooftop solar installations over the years, McQuade said it was not until Bob Anderson of Charlestown-based Anderson Energy Solutions spoke with him that the idea started to come into clearer focus. Anderson offers energy consulting and energy brokerage services and is a McQuade's customer.

"He's a local guy and a customer — someone easy to trust and have a relationship with because I already knew him," Mark McQuade said.

Anderson, McQuade said, put the project out to bid and ultimately connected McQuade and the store with Centrica Business Solutions. The company installed the system and worked on a distribution deal with National Grid, which runs the electrical grid that will receive power from the roof system. The system is expected to go live next week.

"Centrica has other projects in town so I could check with local people for background and references," Mark McQuade said.

The top-to-bottom store renovation, which included new floors, a new ceiling, new lighting, new shelving, and a new store layout, also included removal of the old drop ceiling and improvements to the roof, which previously could not have supported a solar array, said store owner, Tom McQuade, Mark's father.

"The renovation marked a new era of the store and this keeps up with the new era," Tom McQuade said while standing adjacent to the solar panels on the roof.

The father-and-son duo of Tom and Mark along with Mark's wife, Alison, the store's manager, form the team that runs the store, which first opened in 1975 on Main Street, adjacent to McQuade's Marketplace, which is owned by Tom's brother, Michael. The hardware store has been in its current Franklin Street location in Mill Pond Plaza since the late 1980s.

"With all of the electric cars and air conditioners and other electricity use, it's good to help lower the stress on the grid," said Mark McQuade. "It makes sense to plug in this rooftop, which was literally doing nothing but soaking in the sun. Now with this technology, we can harness it," Mark McQuade said.

The store used almost $500,000 in Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy financing from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank to cover the cost of the 200.2 kilowatts of solar panels that are expected to reduce 2,683 tons of carbon dioxide or CO2 emissions. Carbon emissions trapped in the atmosphere causes global warming and climate change.

Mark McQuade said he hopes other business owners will consider similar projects.

"I would encourage any business that has an open roof like this to investigate it," McQuade said.

The financing provided to the store by the infrastructure bank is one of five Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy loans totaling $20 million issued by the bank in fiscal year 2021. The funding, according to a news release from the bank, supported the implementation of energy efficiency and solar projects in commercial properties that will reduce carbon emissions by over 14,000 metric tons, the equivalent of the annual energy use of over 1,700 single-family homes.

"The Infrastructure Bank is pleased to help make these solar, water conservation, and energy efficiency construction projects happen via our C-PACE program,” said Jeffrey R. Diehl, the bank's CEO, in a news release. "As Rhode Island's commercial building owners look to upgrade their properties to make them more efficient, C-PACE is an excellent tool that can provide up to 100% project financing. That means no upfront, out-of-pocket costs, and no personal guarantees are needed to make these projects a reality. Repayment occurs via an assessment on the property, and typically the energy cost savings from these upgrades outweigh the payment."

The bank also provided $538,244 in C-PACE financing to allow the St. Francis de Sales Parish in North Kingstown to construct a 249.5-kilowatt ground-mounted solar installation that will reduce 3,319 tons of CO2 emissions and save $1,273,642 in electricity costs over the expected 20-year useful life of the project.

Additionally, the bank provided $715,000 in C-PACE financing to allow South County Investments in South Kingstown to install measures including water conservation, LED lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades, insulation, and a 33-kilowatt solar system that will reduce 1,210 tons of CO2 emissions and save $613,677 in energy costs over the expected useful life of the project.

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