A pair of suburban Atlanta office parks go green by turning to the sun

Landlord Atlanta Property Group set up solar arrays at two office locations using federal tax credits.
Rooftop solar installed at the Palisades office complex in Atlanta on Tuesday, July 18, 2023.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Rooftop solar installed at the Palisades office complex in Atlanta on Tuesday, July 18, 2023.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

The Palisades office park overlooking I-285 in Sandy Springs is dwarfed by other Central Perimeter landmarks like the King and Queen buildings.

Though the mid-rise buildings along Peachtree-Dunwoody Road might not catch the eye like their taller neighbors, what the buildings draw from the sun could turn them into a local model for how to make existing office buildings friendlier to the environment.

Atlanta Property Group, the owner of Palisades, recently installed solar arrays that the company says will produce about 15% of the campus’ power needs. The 2,000 panels top a Palisades parking garage and the roofs of the office buildings. The commercial real estate firm has also installed a set of panels at the smaller One Point Royal complex in Alpharetta that it says could accommodate about a quarter of that campus’ electricity needs.

Solar panels atop a parking garage and on building rooftops at the Palisades office complex in Atlanta on Tuesday, July 18, 2023.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

icon to expand image

Credit: Ben Gray

Environmental experts tout solar as a clean alternative to electricity produced by burning coal and other fossil fuels, which contribute heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere that are causing climate change. Many office tenants are pushing landlords to make their facilities greener to meet certain corporate environmental goals.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute estimates 40% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions come from commercial and residential properties, meaning buildings are some of the largest potential sources of energy efficiency improvements.

Jonathan Rodbell, partner and co-founder of Atlanta Property Group, said the solar investments in Palisades and One Point Royal are part of the company’s commitment to decarbonizing the already built environment.

“We want our tenants to feel like they are part of a community that cares about the environment,” he said.

Corporate America and local governments are among the largest entities pushing solar and other efficiency investments. Tech giants like Facebook owner Meta, Microsoft and Amazon have also invested heavily in renewable energy sources to offset or reduce carbon emissions. The city of Atlanta has also deployed solar on the roofs of more than 20 buildings.

Georgia is among the top states in the country for installed solar, but the vast majority of its capacity is in the form of utility-scale arrays — not smaller rooftop residential and commercial installations. A recent report by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy found that less than 9% of the solar connected to Georgia Power’s system is “distributed,” an industry term for electricity generated near the location where it will be used, like a home or business.

Solar advocates have warned that Georgia’s rooftop solar sector will continue to lag without changes to state policies.

Atlanta Property Group said its installation of about 800-kilowatts of solar at the nearly 650,000-square-foot Palisades campus makes it one of the largest solar arrays at a multi-tenant office property in the Southeast. The One Point Royal location uses more than 500 solar panels, and the group pegs it as a 200-kilowatt solar site.

“That’s a very substantial installation,” said Sam Culpepper, an architect at Southface Institute, a sustainable building non-profit.

These two buildings offered good locations for solar panels because of unobstructed, south-facing views, Rodbell said.

Rooftop solar installed at the Palisades office complex in Atlanta on Tuesday, July 18, 2023.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

icon to expand image

Credit: Ben Gray

The Atlanta Property Group expects the solar panels will generate a total of 1.15 million kilowatt-hours of clean energy in the first year of operation. For comparison, 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity could power 10 hours of television watching, according to an explanation by North American Power.

Palisades has a cache of energy certifications from ENERGY STAR and LEED, while also featuring a 2-star Fitwel Rating. Fitwel rates out of three stars and focuses on oxygen health and general wellness, Culpepper said.

The total $2 million solar investment between the two campuses relied on federal tax credits extended by the Inflation Reduction Act, President Joe Biden’s signature health and climate bill, saving the company around 30% on each of the projects.

Ramtin Motahar, founder of Atlanta Joulea, a software platform that reduces energy costs, said the investment is pushing the envelope for decarbonizing commercial buildings.

The Atlanta Property Group has also invested in updates to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems across its properties. The company recently partnered with Atlanta Tech Village, known as Atlanta’s startup hub, to lower the building’s carbon intensity. The partnership includes an initial building evaluation followed by a strategic recommendation, according to a release about the partnership.

When it comes to renewable energy investments, solar is a renewable resource particularly useful in the Southeast.

The South has low-latitude, which opens it up to more sun exposure, and Georgia tends to have a lot of bright days, Culpepper said. This leads to greater production from the solar plants. In addition, the state already has a burgeoning solar industry with manufacturers such as Qcells.

“There’s a lot of existing infrastructure to support more solar here,” Culpepper said.

While Atlanta Property Group’s solar investments help the environment, the sustainability measures also lead to utility savings. The One Point Royal plant, installed in-house, is expected to generate 25% savings, which Rodbell said created an “attractive return on costs” when paired with the tax credit.

The Palisades installation was contracted to Atlanta’s Cherry Street Energy and will not bring in direct savings, Rodbell said, because Atlanta Property Group will pay the company the power costs in exchange for them building it.

“We’re focused across our entire portfolio on doing the best we can to keep them as efficient as possible,” Rodbell said.

-Staff writer Drew Kann contributed to this report.

Note of disclosure

This coverage is supported by a partnership with 1Earth Fund, the Kendeda Fund and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at ajc.com/donate/climate/