02 May Pearl-area complex brings ‘cutting-edge sustainable’ practi…
When Stephen Hennigan, the president and CEO of Credit Human, started to imagine a new headquarters in downtown San Antonio, he knew he didn’t want just an ordinary building.
It would have to be good for the environment and make sense financially. Influenced by what he learned designing his own home, Hennigan was certain the project would use solar power, conserve water and employ the latest in energy-efficient technology.
He also wanted to take it up a notch by tapping geothermal power from below ground.
About the author
Josh Baugh covers the environment for the San Antonio Express-News. A San Antonio native, he holds a bachelor’s degree from Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas, and a master’s in journalism from the University of North Texas. He worked at the Denton Record-Chronicle and the Bryan-College Station Eagle before joining the Express-News in 2006. He covered San Antonio city government for nearly a decade before taking over the environmental beat. [email protected] | Twitter: @jbaugh
When Hennigan showed his board members how the efficiency measures, though initially more expensive, would save money in the long run, they were won over.
Credit Human decided to team up with Silver Ventures, the company that bought the mothballed Pearl brewery and transformed it into a thriving urban village. It shared Hennigan’s enthusiasm for green building methods.
On a 3-acre site on Broadway at Grayson Street, next to the Pearl, they planned two towers and a parking garage. Now under construction, a 12-story building will house Credit Human’s headquarters and an eight-story building will have office space leased out by Silver Ventures.
When completed next year, the headquarters will be the first commercial building in San Antonio to rely on geothermal power for heating and cooling. Its use of fossil fuels will be minimal.
Though unusual, the project isn’t using any untested technology, Hennigan said.
“There’s nothing experimental in that building. Now, what’s experimental is that we’re putting them all together in a midrise. … That just is not being done,” he said.
At least not here. It’s more common in California and New York.
The project seems like a made-to-order example of a main goal of San Antonio’s draft climate action plan: cut the use of fossil fuels for buildings, the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. The climate proposal has proved so controversial that a City Council vote on it has been delayed twice and is now reset for sometime in the fall.
“I don’t come at this from a tree-hugger perspective. I’m not in this deep environmental camp,” he said. “I care about our environment. But you know, I come at it from a practical point of view. … We can’t kill our planet; we can’t kill businesses. We just got to do what’s basically possible today with the technologies we have.”
Solar and more
All three structures will be covered 2,912 solar panels, with a capacity to generate 1 megawatt of power. The solar power will be used only by the Credit Human building, with any excess added to CPS’ electrical grid.
Both towers will be sheathed in windows that reflect 75 percent of sunlight. The buildings’ envelope will be as tight as the hull of a ship, preventing conditioned air from escaping. The insulation, four inches thick throughout the buildings, is double the requirement of the building code, Hennigan said.
Beneath the buildings are 150 wells dug 300 feet deep that will tap geothermal energy.
“The ground has a temperature that’s persistently about 70 to 75 degrees, and that energy is there all the time,” Hennigan said. “So we can access that for heating and cooling. And that’s different than creating the heating and cooling out of some piece of equipment.”
The geothermal system will supply 100 percent of the headquarter’s heat and 40 percent of its air-conditioning, which will reduce the building’s dependence on cooling towers.
Both buildings have systems that harvest rainwater and capture condensate from the air-conditioners. Besides landscaping, the nonpotable water will be used for flushing toilets in the Credit Human building, reducing the need to buy water from the San Antonio Water System by 97 percent.
“It’s going to use the equivalent of one single-family house of four for the entire building,” Hennigan said.
Even with all of its green features, Credit Human won’t be a net zero energy building, meaning it will need more energy from an outside source than it can generate on its own.
Still, project engineers have calculated the Credit Human headquarters will reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 1,000 tons, or 2 million pounds, making it about 40 percent more energy efficient than if it had been built to the minimum efficiency standards in local building codes, according to 1703Broadway.com, a Credit Human website that explains the project.
That commitment to environmental stewardship wowed even Credit Human’s project partners at Silver Ventures.
“They said they wanted to do something cutting-edge sustainable,” said Bill Shown, the managing director of real estate for Silver Ventures. “We’ve been learning at their footsteps, from a solar perspective, water conservation, geothermal — every single aspect of this, they have taken us to places we wouldn’t have gone ourselves, just out of ignorance.”
Working with Hennigan and Credit Human has pushed Silver Ventures to up its game at the Pearl, Shown said. For example, it’s replacing the original solar panels on the Full Goods Building and installing new ones on another project.
There was a learning curve for the construction crews, too.
For example, the structure’s envelope was complex and had to be just right. A full-size mockup of an exterior wall was made on site for construction workers to understand exactly how to build it.
For some work on the headquarters, Hennigan couldn’t find the expertise he wanted locally. He brought in mechanical, plumbing and electrical system engineers from San Francisco, where green building is more prevalent. He hopes that will change in the future.
Energy-efficient practices are catching on in San Antonio.
Over the last dozen years, nearly 500 projects here have been certified under the most widely used green building rating system, known as LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
CPS Energy now has about 15,700 customers, including residential accounts, using solar.
CPS itself, when it is finished renovating the former Valero building on McCullough for its new headquarters, expects to gain a 60 percent increase in energy efficiency. The building will have a reflective roof, charging stations for electric vehicles, LED lighting with motion sensors, a rain-harvesting system for the irrigation of drought-tolerant landscaping, and a high-efficiency HVAC system, among other things. The project will not include a solar array, but the parking garage is designed for a future system, according to a utility spokeswoman.
Anita Ledbetter, executive director of Build San Antonio Green, said she notices more momentum around green construction.
Doug Melnick, the city’s chief of sustainability, said there’s a lot of excitement about the Credit Human project.
“The goal is really to be able to show that projects like this can pencil out,” he said. “And when I’d spoken to them in the past, the idea of going carbon neutral was a goal, but we’re not there yet. But we can still get as close as possible, and I think having that local example that incorporates that best technology and provides a return on investment will really set a standard in San Antonio.”
Hennigan calculates that the extra 4 percent Credit Human paid for the environmental features of the new headquarters will have paid for themselves in a dozen or so years.
“The argument you’re hearing is that this stuff…