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Business Manager’s Blog

Michael Monahan

Michael P. Monahan, the Business Manager of Local 103 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, represents more than 7,000 electrical and telecommunication members in the Greater Boston area.

In addition to the strong and steady leadership he provides to his Local Union on a daily basis, he exudes the same qualities when providing services for the community, whether it is coordinating volunteer efforts for electricians who are donating their skills at various places, such as schools and private homes for disabled individuals, or the installation of wireless capabilities for the City. From his days as a rank-and-file member through his current position as Business Manager, Mike has met every challenge and serves his membership with pride and distinction.

A regional power solution

Tapping ratepayers for gas, electricity lines

CommonWealth Magazine | By Bruce Mohl
July 24, 2014

THE SIX NEW ENGLAND governors are plotting huge changes in the region’s energy market, but none of them are stepping up to explain why their proposals are needed or how they will affect their constituents.

The governors are pushing a plan that would have New England’s electricity ratepayers absorb both the cost of a new natural gas pipeline coming into the region as well as a major transmission line carrying hydroelectric power from Canada. The goal is to ease periodic supply constraints for natural gas and to tap a low-carbon source of electricity to the north, but there are tons of questions about the proposals and relatively few answers.

“The governors owe it to their constituents to make their case and do it in a public forum so people can ask questions,” said Shanna Cleveland, a senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston.

With many of New England’s coal, oil, and nuclear power plants shutting down, the region faces some big energy choices. Do we build new power plants, import more energy from outside the region, or try to scale back our overall use of electricity? Do we embrace relatively cheap fracked natural gas, or do we try to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels? Do we import hydro from Canada, or develop more expensive offshore wind?

The six New England governors have been grappling with these questions for a couple years and apparently have reached a consensus on Canadian hydro and natural gas. Many of the details are being worked out by a series of fairly obscure regional agencies with little input from the general public. There are plans to seek approval from federal regulators for bill assessments to pay for the projects as early as this fall.

Massachusetts residents have a huge stake in the debate because they consume the most electricity in the region and will likely foot much of the bill for whatever gets built. A PowerPoint presentation handed out at a meeting on the proposals this week in Westborough indicated the cost would be shared by all of the region’s residents, but didn’t explain how the cost would be apportioned among the individual states.

“The specifics of how they’d go about it have been frighteningly lacking,” said Greg Cunningham, a senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation’s office in Portland, Maine, who attended this week’s meeting.

State officials have suggested the governors’ plan is needed because the private markets haven’t put forward any solutions to the region’s emerging energy shortage, but that’s not entirely true. Kinder Morgan, the corporate parent of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., is proposing to build a pipeline extension from Pennsylvania into New York and then across northern Massachusetts to Dracut. The company’s website says it solicited potential customers for the gas and generated “significant interest” from local gas distribution companies and generators of electricity. The website says negotiations with potential customers are under way. There is no mention of a need for a region-wide charge on electric bills to pay for the pipeline.

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Solar labor dispute flares: Unions, contractor disagree over construction practices at San Mateo’s Nueva School

The Daily Journal | By Samantha Weigel
July 28, 2014

A scathing labor dispute about the installation of solar panels at Nueva School’s new state-of-the-art campus at Bay Meadows is prompting the San Mateo City Council to look into whether it can ensure contracts are upheld.

The dispute centers on the general contractor’s hiring practices and if electricians or laborers should do the solar work — an industry with wide interpretation as to who can. And while city officials have taken an interest, it is not clear what, if anything, can be done.

Still, Councilman David Lim brought the matter to the council’s attention and instructed city staff to research the matter at a study session last week.

“We need to send a clear message to developers that if they’re going to enter into a project labor agreement with our unions, they better be damned sure to follow it,” Lim said.

However, as the city is not a party to the agreement, it may not have authority to enforce the PLA.

The private Nueva School is building its first high school at Bay Meadows, currently in Phase II of the former race track’s 83.5-acre redevelopment off Highway 101 north of Hillsdale Boulevard.

Construction of the environmentally-friendly 2.7-acre campus started in early 2013 and is slated to be mostly finished in time for school to start in the fall.

Prior to construction, the general contractor, Devcon Construction, entered into an agreement with unions to hire locally and iron out which tradesmen would be hired for specific jobs, according to multiple sources. However, the addition of solar panels came after the PLA was drafted and has spurred a dispute between a San Mateo electricians union, a solar energy subcontractor, Devcon and the city.

Terry Lee, associate head of Nueva School, said he could not comment on the dispute.

Lim said he spoke with a Devcon representative who said the solar portion of the project came up last minute and, in trying to have the project completed by August, admitted the company violated the PLA.

The proper procedure would have been to hold a meeting announcing the change to allow everyone an opportunity to bid for the job, according to multiple sources.

Devcon Controller Bret Sisney said the company followed the PLA and the unions could have requested a meeting once the solar component was added. Sisney said he didn’t know when solar panels were added to the project and the representative who informed Lim of the company’s violation did not return a request for comment.

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Construction in Huron Village creates parking headaches

Neighborhood grapples with challenge as it undergoes road, sewer improvements

The Boston Globe | By Martine Powers
July 27, 2014

Huron VillageCAMBRIDGE — They call it “the Big Dig of Huron Village.”

For months, residents and business owners in Cambridge have endured a no-holds-barred construction project that has hampered travel through West Cambridge, shutting roads to traffic, gutting sidewalks, and making the once-challenging task of finding parking nearly impossible.

“It’s an obstacle course of construction equipment,” said, Jan Devereux, president of the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance and a longtime resident in the epicenter of the road work.

In a city often pigeonholed as the realm of cyclists and the too-cool-for-cars crowd, the construction has demonstrated that even one of the region’s least car-dependent cities is not immune to the dramatic repercussions of tearing up the roads, and with them, coveted parking spots.

“It’s not like Harvard Square; people don’t walk everywhere here,” said Marc Najarian, one of the co-owners of Fresh Pond Market on Huron Avenue. “We don’t have any big parking lots. This really affects us small businesses.”

The construction is the result of a federal court-ordered effort that started in 1985 to provide new drainage and sewage systems to reduce waste water dumped into Boston Harbor. Cambridge must finish the work by the deadline set by the court, fall 2015. And much of the construction could not begin until this year, after the completion of a stormwater wetland project in Alewife that will help filter sewer water and prevent flooding in surrounding neighborhoods.

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Torrid pace of luxury development leaves many neighborhoods largely untouched

Universal Hub | By adamg

30 B StreetConstruction cranes may be crowding some of Boston’s neighborhoods, leaving areas such as Broadway, Downtown Crossing and Boylston Street in the Fenway looking like something out of a SimCity game on “cheetah” mode, but, in fact, Boston’s surge of luxury housing is largely bypassing large swaths of the city. You can get an idea of what’s going on by taking a look at the Zoning Board of Appeals’ long Aug. 5 agenda and comparing the construction projects going before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Aug. 5 in South Boston with those in Roslindale and West Roxbury:

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Proposed Ashmont Tire project takes shape

Dorchester Reporter | By Lauren Dezenski
July 24, 2014

Ashmont TireCommunity members got their first detailed look at what a proposed six-story, mixed-use building coming to the Ashmont Tire site on Dorchester Avenue would look like at a meeting held on Monday evening at Carney Hospital’s Riseman Lecture Hall.

Organized by Trinity Financial, Inc.— the firm that developed and owns the Carruth building across the street— the Ashmont Tire proposal would bring another 4,000 feet of retail space, 81 residential units, and 44 parking spaces in a new building designed to serve as a gateway between Peabody Square and Lower Mills.

Because of the Carruth, “we have double the reason to make sure the Ashmont Tire that we’re proposing is successful,” said Kenan Bigby, a project manager for Trinity Financial who led Tuesday’s meeting. The Carruth building, built on a former MBTA parking lot, has become a model for successful “transit-oriented” development in the city. The mixed-use building, which opened in 2007, features residential apartments on five floors above first-floor retail spaces, including a bank branch, coffee shop, and the popular eatery Tavolo. The building, which opened as the Ashmont T station next door was itself undergoing a total reconstruction, has sparked a resurgence in the Ashmont/Peabody Square neighborhood in recent years.

Trinity recently entered into a deal to purchase the Ashmont Tire property for an undisclosed amount, with the sale contingent on the development firm making a viable project work at the site. Monday’s meeting was the latest in a series of community sessions with smaller civic groups that have been happening since June, but it was the first “community-wide” forum in which plans for the site – tentatively named Ashmont TOD2 – were given in detail.

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Quincy ferry terminal sale final; USS Salem to leave in 2015

Patriot Ledger | By Patrick Ronan
July 18, 2014

USS SalemQUINCY – A city developer has complete his purchase of the former MBTA ferry terminal at the Quincy shipyard, but the USS Salem, which is docked there, is expected to stay put for the rest of the year.

Fore River Recycling, a subsidiary owned by shipyard developer Jay Cashman, closed last week on its $1.1 million purchase of nearly 12 acres of land and water rights from the MBTA. The property is the former site of the Fore River ferry terminal and current docking location for the USS Salem, the former Navy cruiser that has long symbolized Quincy’s shipbuilding history.

As a result of the sale, the Salem will be relocated to the Boston Harbor Shipyard & Marina in East Boston. Michael Condon, the executive director of the U.S. Naval Shipbuilding Museum, the nonprofit that owns the ship, said the Salem will likely leave Quincy in early 2015.

“Our expectation is that we will be in Quincy for a bit longer than our original plan, but we’re still moving forward with our relocation plan,” Condon said.
Condon said the pier at the East Boston shipyard needs to be refitted before it can take on the Salem.

The Salem, built in the Fore River shipyard in the 1940s, has been closed to the public since September, when the T discovered the wharf was unstable. The next month, the T closed the ferry terminal after a water-main break moved a sea wall and further damaged the wharf.

Since the 1990s, when the Salem returned to Quincy, the nonprofit group has leased water rights from the T and drew revenue by hosting tours of the ship, educational programs and its popular Haunted Ship attraction.

The T’s sale of the property to Cashman not only will end the Salem’s time in Quincy, but it shuts down the city’s commuter-ferry service. The T has expanded its service out of the Hingham terminal to accommodate Quincy riders.

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Commerce Department Focuses On $2.15 Billion Worth of Equipment

The Wall Street Journal | By William Mauldin
July 26, 2014

The U.S. took another step Friday to reduce the inflow of inexpensive solar panels and cells from Asia, saying Chinese and Taiwanese companies shipped $2.15 billion worth of solar equipment to the U.S. at unfairly low prices last year.

The preliminary decision, which could still be altered upon review, is part of a continuing battle between large producers of solar panels in North America and Europe and producers in Asia, which the U.S. blames for violating trade rules to support domestic producers.

The stakes are high, since solar-energy installations are often eligible for lucrative government subsidies.

The Commerce Department said the companies dumped solar cells, panels and other equipment into the U.S., and it levied provisional tariffs on the firms.

The latest case was brought by the U.S. unit of Germany’s SolarWorld AG, which says it is the victim of both dumping and unfair subsidies from China, hurting its ability to compete in the U.S.

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Developers take steps to reinvent suburban office parks

The Boston Globe | By Jay Fitzgerald
July 27, 2014

Steven ZieffWhen the exodus to the suburbs got underway more than a half-century ago, employers followed, and the office park was born. But today, as younger workers return to the city, and employers again follow the labor, these isolated campuses of low-slung buildings, parking lots, and company cafeterias face challenges, from new competitors to aging facilities to high vacancy rates.

As a result, owners and developers across Eastern Massachusetts are seeking to reinvent the suburban office park, taking a page from urban revitalization that transformed old mill and factory buildings into mixed-use developments of housing, retail, and office spaces. In communities such as Burlington and Marlborough, developers are adding restaurants, hotels, and other amenities, as well as housing, to compete with the “live, work, play” attraction of the city.

In Marlborough, for example, Atlantic Management Inc. of Framingham purchased the former Hewlett-Packard campus three years ago to launch a more than $200 million rehab of the 110-acre site, which dates back to the 1960s. The project is well underway, with Atlantic refurbishing the two office buildings, while AvalonBay Communities of Virginia, which purchased 26 acres at the site, builds 350 luxury apartments.

Atlantic Management also plans to develop a 153-room hotel and 50,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space that may one day include a farmers market. Already, this redevelopment of the Marlborough Hills office park has attracted a major corporate tenant, Quest Diagnostics of New Jersey, which plans to locate more than 1,000 lab workers there later this year.

“The number-one challenge for many companies is how to attract talent,” said Joseph Zink, chief executive of Atlantic Management.“Companies need to attract talent and this is one way to do it. I think we’re going to see more of this in Massachusetts.”

Suburban office parks across the nation are trying to respond to tenants insisting on more amenities, said David Begelfer, chief executive of NAIOP-Massachusetts, a real estate trade group. In Massachusetts, there’s no precise figure on how many office parks are undertaking renovations large and small, Begelfer said, but “it’s dozens of them and they’re easily spending billions of dollars.”

“The market is demanding it,” he said.

Commercial real estate specialists say the trend in office park redevelopment is driven by two forces. First, property owners need to renovate aging, outdated buildings, some of which are a half-century old. Second, they must meet increasing competition from Boston, Cambridge, and other nearby urban communities.

Along Interstate 495, the vacancy rate for Class A offices is hovering at nearly 18 percent, compared with 11.5 percent in Boston and less than 6 percent in Cambridge. Commercial rents are depressed. Offices lease for only $20 per square foot in the region, less than half of what similar space fetches in Boston and Cambridge, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate firm.

The site of the former headquarters of data storage giant EMC Corp. in Hopkinton is an extreme case of a struggling suburban property. The 160,000-square-foot building, just off I-495, has sat empty for 13 years, ever since EMC moved to newer offices elsewhere in town, said Steven Zieff, a partner with Hopkinton’s Crossroads Redevelopment LLC.

Crossroads has an option to buy the 38-acre property, which also includes four one-story buildings, and hopes to redevelop the site into a mixed-use complex of housing, retail stores, restaurants, and office space.

“People are looking for something different,” said Zieff. “It’s the entire ‘live, work, play’ environment that people want. They don’t want to go to just an office park with a cafeteria and parking lots.”

Read more.

Waterfront Towers’ Design Divides Neighborhood

Support, Criticism For Chiofaro Proposal

Banker & Tradesman | By Steve Adams
July 27, 2014

Harbor Towers RenderingBefore revealing the newest design for his skyscraper complex on the Boston waterfront, developer Donald Chiofaro called it “unabashedly forward-looking without being dismissive of its context.”

Critics promptly dismissed the 1.3-million-square-foot development as out of place amid the surrounding properties near Central Wharf.

“It will overwhelm the neighborhood,” said Meredith Rosenberg, a Harbor Towers resident and member of a committee advising the Boston Redevelopment Authority on waterfront development. “If we are relaxing the state guidelines on the waterfront, what else is going to happen with other sites? Is the sky the limit with these other sites that are up for development as well?”

The designs also drew support from some neighborhood residents, more than 100 of whom attended a community meeting Wednesday to see sketches of the entire buildings for the first time.

Renderings by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and ADD Inc. showed a pair of towers with angular tops and tapered sides. At 600 feet, the taller tower would have a terra cotta exterior and contain 120 luxury condos and a 250- to 300-room hotel on the upper floors, and three floors of retail and restaurant space on the bottom.

The second tower, at 550 feet, would have a more conventional glass exterior and contain 700,000 square feet of office space with ground-level retail.

The buildings would take the place of the eight-story Harbor Towers garage on a 1.3-acre site wedged between the New England Aquarium and the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. The garage was built at the same time as the pair of 40-story Harbor Towers residential buildings in the late 1960s and contains public parking and deeded parking for the condo owners.

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Creating ‘Harvard Square’ In The Suburbs

Where Amenities Are Added, Higher Rents Follow

Banker & Tradesman | By Erin Baldassari
July 27, 2014

Wells Avenue Office ParkForget your grandpa’s office park. With office rents continuing to rise in Cambridge and downtown Boston, the demand for urban amenities in the suburbs has grown, and developers are responding.

“People used to move to the suburbs for the convenience, the cheaper rents and the free parking,” said Duncan Gratton, a principal at commercial real estate company Cassidy Turley.

Now suburban landlords are spending millions to reverse the trend of companies fleeing the suburbs in favor of “cool” downtown neighborhoods and innovation districts.

“The suburbs now have to compete from an office population and office ownership perspective with the more fun, more attractive locations of the city,” Gratton said. “For a long time, they competed pretty poorly. The free parking and rents were nice, but there wasn’t a lot to do out there, and there’s still a lot of traffic.”

In Burlington, where office rents have jumped 13 percent in the last year, two developers are trying to reap the rewards of office park makeovers. In Newton, developer Cabot, Cabot & Forbes wants to build 334 apartments in its Wells Avenue office park.

Even in what most people would consider an urban environment – the Seaport District of Boston – developer Jamestown LP is discovering that just one mile can make a big difference. With 1.4 million square feet in two buildings that house a mix of commercial, R&D and industrial uses, the company realizes that one Au Bon Pain and a hardware store doesn’t cut it for today’s office users.

Jamestown recently brought in food trucks, but with tech incubator MassChallenge moving to the property in June, company representatives said they’re looking for evening options to cater to the entrepreneurial crowd.

“Our plan would bring additional amenities to the ground floor, such as a coffee shop, newsstand, food purveyors and showrooms, all opening onto a pedestrian promenade,” said Jamestown Chief Operating Officer Michael Phillips. “Our experience in other markets has shown that access to amenities is a key consideration for companies as they make location decisions and seek to recruit top talent and grown their businesses.”

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Quincy Takes A Second Look At Downtown Project

Time To Rethink Urban Revitalization Plan

Banker & Tradesman | By Steve Adams
July 27, 2014

Quincy CenterAfter an ambitious downtown redevelopment scheme fell apart in late winter, Quincy is ready to hit the reset button.

The city is narrowing down a list of land-use consultants who will be responsible for rethinking the seven-year-old master plan for 3.5-million-square feet of offices, residences and retail on 55 acres in the heart of downtown.

“Right now, it deserves a whole new look, and it’s a little stale,” said Dennis Harrington, the city’s planning director. “The market changes and our response to the market changes.”

An advisory committee has identified Redgate Real Estate Advisors of Boston and Stantec, an Edmonton-based consulting with local offices in Boston, as finalists. Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch will make the final decision awarding the contract.

A Complicated History

The consultants will study whether the master plan adapted in 2007 is still realistic, given its scope of 1,400 housing units and 1.8 million square feet of commercial space, or to suggest changes.

They’ll also recommend which parcels should be made available for development and in which order. Near the top of the list, according to Quincy officials, is the city-owned Ross parking garage, which sits on a 3-acre site across from Stop & Shop Supermarket Cos.’ regional offices. That parcel was identified as the potential site for a big-box retailer in redevelopment studies.

Work on the first phase of the redevelopment ended almost as soon as it began last year, resulting in Koch’s removal of master developer Street-Works of White Plains, N.Y. in March.

Street-Works blamed rising construction costs for the stoppage of work on the Merchants Row phase of development last fall, leaving a moribund construction site on part of a key development parcel. The property would have jump-started the downtown makeover with 287 loft apartments, 35,000 of ground-floor retail shops and 24,000 square feet of office space.

With a new plan comes a potential new set of investors. Quincy Mutual Insurance Co. has invested more than $18 million in the Merchants Row parcel, and it has hired Sheskey Architects of Quincy to draw up a new development plan for the block, Koch spokesman Christopher Walker said. Kevin Meskell, an executive vice president at Quincy Mutual, said the company remains an investor in the project but “there is nothing definite at this time” as far as a new plan for Merchants Row.

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Growing Demand Fuels Mixed-Use Financing Need

Complex Projects Raise Issues, Rewards For Lenders

Banker & Tradesman | By Eric D. Lemont
July 27, 2014

Mixed-use developments that combine retail, commercial and residential uses, emphasize walkability and embrace the “live, work and play” motto are becoming increasingly popular in Greater Boston.

Financing mixed-use developments can be a profitable opportunity for lenders – from community banks to deep-pocketed private investors – but they can also be extremely complicated.

Local mixed-use projects in the works include Boston Landing, a massive, $500 million development in the Allston and Brighton section of Boston. The project will include the headquarters for New Balance, as well as offices, shops, restaurants, a hotel, athletic complex and a new MBTA commuter rail station. Residential space has also recently been proposed.

In Somerville, a Chicago developer will oversee the $1 billion rebuilding of Union Square into a mixed-use institutional, commercial and residential, transit-oriented district.

And on Boston’s waterfront, developer Donald Chiofaro’s proposed $1 billion mixed-use, twin towers project on the site of the Harbor Garage on Atlantic Avenue is finally gaining support in City Hall. The towers would house up to 300 hotel rooms, 120 luxury condominiums and three levels of retail and restaurants.

More mixed-use developments are on the way in Boston and surrounding communities.

While each project is complex in its own way, in almost every mixed-used project a lender will confront similar issues in dealing with the borrower, the municipality and other lenders involved in financing the project.

Establishing Loan Terms

Given the complications and risks of mixed-use developments, lenders generally will prefer a developer with whom they have an established relationship or who has a strong track record and reputation for building similar projects. Assuming an attractive sponsor, site and mix of real estate asset types, a lender will underwrite both the individual components of the development and the project’s overall feasibility to establish its loan terms.

It is not uncommon to include a commitment limited to 65 percent of costs or 70 percent of stabilized value and a construction term of 12 to 36 months, followed by a “mini-perm” feature, in which the term of the loan extends for a year or two past the completion date.

After finalizing the terms of the lender’s commitment, the parties will enter into what is, for the most part, customary construction loan documentation. Lenders will require a completion guaranty in addition to the loan agreement, note and mortgage, and also may require a full or partial payment guaranty, which usually will terminate or be released once construction is complete and the property meets certain debt service coverage thresholds.

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Bus Rapid Transit System Could Be A Fit For Boston

Study Group Looks At Feasibility For City’s Streets

Banker & Tradesman | By Rick Dimino
July 27, 2o14

Boston has always led the nation as a city of innovation, and this legacy of creativity and ingenuity extends to public transportation. The time has come for us to carry this legacy forward and explore how we can deliver better and faster access to desired destinations to our residents, workforce and visitors.

One potential opportunity lies in Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, a transportation innovation that would complement our existing transit network and improve mobility and travel time. The possibilities for Boston are tantalizing. BRT vehicles travel apart from traffic in separated parts of the street. Riders wait in weatherproof, enclosed stations rather than open bus stops and pay their fare before boarding the vehicle, which reduces delays.

Like a subway, platform level entry through multiple doors speeds up the system while improving access for those with special needs, the elderly, and parents travelling with young children.

Moreover, BRT is cost-effective. Since BRT modifies existing roadways rather than constructing major new rail infrastructure, it is significantly less expensive and faster than adding rail tracks for a new subway or light rail line. This also means BRT lines can be built much more quickly (and adapted much more easily) to serve current and future transit needs of growing cities.

BRT is fast becoming the norm in major international and national urban areas and is a viable part of our transportation future. Cleveland, for example, is home to the highest rated BRT system in the United States. Vehicles in its “Health Line” corridor, traveling in separated lanes, move at speeds of 35 miles per hour, bypassing congestion and traffic.

The service also runs around the clock, with service at intervals of five to 15 minutes depending on the time of day. This service has also spurred significant economic activity and development along the route.

Cleveland’s Health Line shows what BRT can achieve and bring to our cities. There are also BRT systems in California and Nevada, and they are coming to Chicago and Hartford.

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How to install solar power and save

It’s never been easier or more financially appealing.

The Boston Globe | By Elizabeth Gehrman
July 17, 2014

Solar CartoonThomas and Margaret Hall of Quincy have almost twice the house they did in 2009 but less than half the utility bills. “The renovation started because we needed another bathroom,” says Thomas, who works in technical sales at IBM. But the scope of the project quickly expanded, and the couple ended up adding a floor and a half to their 1903 bungalow, just about doubling its square footage. “During the construction we’d super-insulated the house, making it extra-extra efficient, so we decided as committed environmentalists now was the time to add solar. We thought, ‘We’ll never do this again; let’s do it right.’ ” They’re glad they did, since their winter utility bills have gone from around $500 a month to a mere $110 or so, despite more than 1,500 square feet of additional space. “That includes electric and gas,” Thomas points out.

By now everyone knows that solar power can save homeowners big money on utility bills. But doesn’t it also cost big money to install? It doesn’t have to. (Read on.) Isn’t there a big learning curve? Nope. “You don’t need to know anything,” Thomas says. “It just runs.” And does it even work during dreary New England winters? Yes, as long as you have land or a roof that’s not shaded by trees or other buildings and is oriented correctly (south-facing is ideal but not mandatory). “Even snow doesn’t matter if your panels have a steep angle,” says Henry K. Vandermark, founder and president of Solar Wave Energy in Cambridge. “It just slides right off them.”

So the easy questions are out of the way. And the more complicated aspects of going solar, it turns out, aren’t so difficult, either, once you break them down.

Two Ways to Go Solar

There are two kinds of solar power: photovoltaic, or PV, which produces electricity, and thermal, which warms tap water and can be used for heating in homes with radiant floors. Both systems can be erected on land or atop roofs; roof-mounted panels may require minor structural improvements — such as sistered joists in the attic — to help your roof bear their weight.

The Hall family was lucky; they were able to have both kinds installed when they did their renovation. Many New Englanders will have to make compromises, as each system needs a significant amount of roof or yard space. “Usually there’s a constraint,” says Paul Lyons, founder and president of Zapotec Energy in Cambridge. “Say you have a 2,500-square-foot house. It’s probably two stories, so you have maybe 1,200 square feet on one story. The roof might be 1,400 square feet, and half of it faces north, so you’re left with only 700 square feet facing south.” Many metro-area homes have even less.

While thermal doesn’t work well with hot-water radiators or baseboards, it brings a nice warmth to rooms with radiant floors. And it can save the most in utility costs in houses that currently use oil for heating. “If you use a lot of oil and have limited roof space and radiant heat in the house,” says Erica Boyle, president and owner of RESSolar in Cohasset, “thermal has a phenomenal payback. If you use natural gas and have more roof space, PV might have a better payback. But I really want to stress that there’s a system out there for almost everyone.”

And she does mean everyone. Even if you lack sufficient roof space or rent your home, you can buy a share in a solar garden, also known as community shared solar. These energy shares use net metering, in which solar panels are connected to public utility power grids, allowing them to transfer their extra power onto the grids in exchange for credits on traditional utility bills. “You buy a share of a solar garden that is located in the same utility area that you’re in,” says Brian Greenfield, chief operating officer of Next Step Living, an energy-efficiency company in the Seaport District. “You buy a certain number of panels, and as they produce power, your electric bill gets credited in exactly the same way as if it’s on your roof.”

Panels in a solar garden cost about $1,300 each, and the average household needs 16 to 18 to cover its electricity use in full. “You can pay upfront or we can help you access financing,” Greenfield says, adding that those who buy into solar gardens — which are being built all over the state — are even eligible for state rebates and in some cases tax credits. “You save quite a bit if you buy into solar. Over time it’s a roughly 7 to 10 percent annual return.” That’s way better than a savings account, and you’re banking good karma at the same time.

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Harbor Towers: 600 Feet High, Are You Crazy? This Is Boston!

Curbed | By Tom Acitelli
July 24, 2014

Harbor Towers Close up 2Waterfront condo complex Harbor Towers is having none of developer Don Chiofaro’s plans for the Harbor Garage. And, if you don’t know the reason residents are skittish on the proposed high-rises, then you have not been paying attention.

Thomas Grillo at the Business Journal has the goods: “In a letter to the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Mayor Martin J. Walsh, residents of the two towers of more than 1,000 people at India Wharf said the massive project is too big for the sensitive waterfront site.” (Emphasis is ours.)

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