Basalt affordable housing project will be ‘net zero’ on energy | AspenTimes.com

Basalt affordable housing project will be ‘net zero’ on energy

The eventual cost of living in an affordable-housing project now under construction in Basalt just got lower.

The Basalt Vista complex on the hillside south of Basalt High School has been designated "net zero ready" thanks to a $100,000 grant from local nonprofit dedicated to reducing carbon emissions, and is on its way to a being fully "net zero" with a crown of solar panels planned for the roofs.

"It's so cool," said Mona Newton, executive director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency. "I'm so excited they're doing this."

"Net zero" means the 27-unit project will generate as much electricity as it uses, Newton said. That means those who eventually qualify to buy the units will receive an electric bill that is likely to be at least 95 percent less than a normal electric bill, she said.

"It will be a much smaller electric bill," Newton said.

The green aspect of the project makes it even more unique, Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman said at a county board meeting earlier this week. The partnership behind it — the Roaring Fork School District, Pitkin County and Habitat for Humanity — already was unique and likely the first of its kind in the state, he said.

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With affordable home prices, reasonable subsidy rates from government and nonprofits and net-zero energy impacts, officials hope the project serves as a model for future public-private affordable housing developments, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said.

"It's like a triple win," Peacock said. "It's a big deal."

The cost of the units will range from $250,000 to $350,000 and are targeted toward employees making between $60,000 and $105,000 annually. The 27 units breakdown to four two-bedrooms, 17 three-bedrooms and six four-bedrooms, which will be built in duplex and triplex configurations.

Of those, people who work in Pitkin County and qualify through the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority will be able to purchase 13 of the units. The county was initially slated to receive 12 units, but contributed an extra $500,000 more than it initially allocated to the project and received an extra unit in exchange, Peacock said. The county's total contribution to the project is a bit more than $3 million.

The remaining 14 units will be reserved for Roaring Fork School District teachers.

Pitkin County Commissioner Steve Child pointed out earlier this week that Roaring Fork teachers who work in Pitkin County could have a double chance of qualifying for the unit because they would qualify twice for the units.

Including a $3.2 million land donation by the school district, the project's total cost is $15.7 million. Sales of the units are expected to raise about $8 million.

"It's a beautiful parcel and we're excited about it," Pitkin County Board Chairwoman Patti Clapper said.

Scott Gilbert, president of Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork, gave Basalt Town Councilman Auden Schendler credit for pushing the project to be energy efficient and advocating against a natural gas line for it. While natural gas burns efficiently, its extraction can cause pollution, Newton said.

Those efforts by Schendler — who leads Aspen Skiing Co.'s environmental operations and has written a book on green energy — prompted CORE, Holy Cross Energy and the town of Basalt to embrace the sustainable energy concept, Gilbert said.

"It was a real group effort," he said.

The $100,000 from CORE is going toward installing heating and cooling systems and water-heating systems in the units that feature electric technology compatible with solar panels, Newton said.

The solar panels, which will be installed on the roofs of the units, will come next, she said.

Gilbert said Thursday that he's nearly raised the entire $450,000 for the net-zero portion of the project, including the solar panels. He said he's 100 percent certain the solar panels will be installed. Though the units will feature the solar panels, they also will be hooked into the electrical grid, Newton said. That means that energy gathered by the panels during the day will be used to power the home if electricity is needed at the time, she said. If that electricity is not being used when its generated, it will feed into the electrical grid for use later and at night, Newton said.

"We're excited because (the project design) is beautiful," she said. "It's very, very energy efficient. It's going to be a very comfortable place for people to live."

Newton said she hopes it will become the new standard for affordable-housing projects and construction projects in general.

"It's not yet the normal way for construction, but it will be," she said. "We really need to be taking action (on cleaner energy) as fast as we possibly can."

jauslander@aspentimes.com

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