Thursday, March 24, 2011

Grant Helps Build ‘Green' Homes

$70,000 From State Will Help Pay for Geothermal Heating, Other Features

by Tripp Laino Staff Writer

A $70,000 grant from the Maryland Clean Energy Center is helping put "green" homes in Frederick's North Pointe Community, helping foot the bill for the installation of several features.

The program is one of 10 projects selected by the Maryland Clean Energy Center to receive funding assistance supplied by the U.S. Department of Energy through the Maryland Energy Administration.

The grant was called a "pass through" grant by Richard Griffin, Frederick's director of economic development, during a public meeting March 17. In effect, the city receives a $70,000 grant which it then gives to Nexus Energy for constructing the homes. After the homes are sold, the company repays the grant to the Maryland Clean Energy Center by setting aside a portion of each home sold, and the grant money is given to start another green project.

"They've already put most of the stuff into these homes. We suspect that this is going to be repaid fairly quickly, though they have provisions to pay it back over two years at a certain percent per house," Griffin said at the meeting.

According to the documents presented as background for the city's public meeting, the North Pointe area, at the intersection Bentz and Lord Nickens Streets and was originally made up of "146 public housing units which were demolished due to their poor condition and health, safety, welfare issues."

The new development will have 97 housing units, including 27 public housing units and 15 rental units, which have already been completed, according to the documents. The last 55 units are being built by Nexus Energy Homes, and will be sold to the general public.

The mission of the Maryland Clean Energy Center is promote clean energy economic development and jobs by educating consumers, assisting businesses and advising policymakers, according to a press release.

"These programs are intended to try to assist local government with projects that advance renewable energy in the community," Griffin said. "This project, being located right downtown, as an infill project, on a former public housing site, will have a lot of visibility in the community and the intent is to try to advance energy-efficient homes."

The homes have myriad environmentally friendly features, including resource conservation, such as power and water, and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. According to a press release announcing the grant, the homes have solar and geothermal power generation, smart operating systems and energy efficient materials to generate as much or more energy than the home consumes, creating a "net-zero" demand on local energy supplies. In the case of excess energy, the power is sold back to the utility company.

The geothermal system uses a closed loop that passes a refrigerant into the ground, where the temperature is a constant 68 degrees. It is then brought through the system into the house, where it is raised to room temperature.

Green homes cost more to build, but the price of the Nexus homes are on par with average home prices in Frederick city according to Paul Zanecki, president of Nexus Energy Homes. Zanecki said the homes are within five to seven percent of their traditionally built counterparts, but that some of that cost can be made up by tax credits. He said cost estimates of green products are often inaccurate, due to the ever-decreasing costs in production.

"A lot of the energy products that are being used today are distinctly different in terms of cost and price then they were even a few years ago," Zanecki said. "If you took two-year-old costs, as many people do, and applied them today, you could be off by as much as 50 to 60 percent."

Zanecki said the builders chose Frederick because of the prime location downtown, and said it would be a great addition for the company. "It was a location that was an opportunity," he said. "...It's near the center of the city and adjacent to so many amenities like the hospital and the college. Everything combined we thought it would be a great addition to a developing portfolio."

The project is scheduled to be completed at the end of April, and that there would be a grand opening type of event in mid-May, but no date has been set.

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