Editor’s Note: This post is the second of NACHC’s three-part series highlighting health center readiness in response to the upcoming hurricane season.
Pueblo, Colorado, has historically been reliant on industries like steel and mining to stay economically afloat. However, these industries create toxic pollutants such as lead and mercury that threaten human health. Pueblo’s industrial activity takes place near neighborhoods where residents are primarily people of color or people with limited income, placing them at higher risk. Against this backdrop is a visionary plan by Pueblo City and county leaders who set a goal to have Pueblo completely phase out fossil fuels and run on 100% renewable energy power by 2035.
Pueblo Community Health Center (PCHC) has become a leader in helping the city and county achieve this goal. In 2020, PCHC decided to turn the East Side Clinic into the first net-zero energy health center site in the United States. A zero-net energy building produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements. A combination of high-performance fiberglass windows to reduce solar gain (or when the sun’s rays increase the building temperature), efficient lighting, geothermal energy, and solar panels on the roof and parking lot carport have contributed to the East Side Clinic’s zero-net energy status.
Why did PCHC want to become a Net-Zero Energy Building?
CEO Donald Moore shared that health centers considering solar should approach the idea from a cost-benefit analysis lens because the economic benefits cannot be ignored. The initial cost of the renewable energy systems for the East Side Clinic was about $1.5 million; after initial installation, the payback rate was estimated to be 11-13 years. Rising energy costs has shortened the pay-back rate to a 7–8-year timeframe. In the first year of installation, East Side Clinic’s total billed amount for utilities was $26,557, which saved them $67,848 in utility costs in the first year. Costs will continue to be saved annually as East Side Clinic builds resilience to planned and climate-driven power outages.
Health centers have the opportunity to take advantage of the Inflation Reduction Act tax credits to reduce the cost of solar installations. For example, the investment tax credit (ITC) reduces the federal income tax liability for a percentage of the cost of a solar system that is installed during the tax year. The production tax credit (PCT) is a per-kilowatt-hour for electricity generated by solar for the first 10 years of a system’s operations. This tax credit reduces federal income tax liability and is adjusted annually for inflation, which adds to the overall financial savings that come with solar installations.
Solar + Storage resources for Health Centers
Health centers considering solar microgrids and back-up battery systems may want to check out the Community Health Access to Resilient Green Energy (CHARGE) partnership. Charge is a collaboration between NACHC, Collective Energy, and Capital Link and provides energy options for health centers supporting communities that are vulnerable to grid outages and have patient populations disproportionately affected chronic disease, poverty and racial and ethnic health inequities. To learn more about how climate change impacts patient health or the importance of resiliency energy systems visit:
Julia Dempsey, MPH, is an Environmental Health Program Associate with NACHC’s Public Health Priorities Division.