Planned Dunedin townhomes will create more electricity than residents use

08/01/12 Janelle Irwin
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Officials from across Pinellas County broke ground this morning on what they’re calling the nation’s first multi-family dwelling that generates more electricity than it uses. Chuck Burkett, president of Planet Green, the company building the net zero townhomes in Dunedin, said that means most owners won’t have to pay for electricity “if they live a reasonable lifestyle. Now I’m not telling you if you let your kids leave the sliding glass doors open all day in August, you’ll probably get an electric bill.”

The Eco Village Townhomes are being built just two blocks away from the waterfront and only about a half mile from downtown Dunedin. Burkett said the plan is to combine a series of energy efficient amenities with solar panels to accomplish the goal of netting zero energy costs.

“What happens is during the day, abundant sunshine here in Florida, the excess energy is sent back to the grid for a credit on the electric bill. At night when there’s no sun or on a cloudy day like today, you’re not producing as much energy, the home will draw from the grid. The net zero means that in a twelve month period, heck, in Florida you end up with no electric bill and you probably will have a credit.”

That means homeowners will essentially sell the energy harnessed from the solar panels to Progress Energy. And even though the utility pays less than it charges for the power, residents should still be able to wipe electricity from their budgets. Burkett said he received confirmation from Algo Tech, that they will build the townhomes’ photovoltaic panels in Pinellas County.

“These are not Chinese solar panels – it’s a German company but I can tell you that they have their factory already in containers ready to head this way and they’re going to go ahead and put a facility here that’s going to employ workers here to make solar panels.”

The townhomes will also have high performance, energy efficient AC units, energy star rated appliance, thermal windows, reflective roofs and state of the art insulation. And Steve Anderson, specialty products manager for General Electric, said his company will also be installing energy monitoring systems.

“And that can manage or measure the whole home aggregate energy usage or individual appliance energy usage if the development or the builder wants to go that direction. That can measure on a daily, weekly, monthly or up to a three-year period. We’re also going to add additional features into that product where people can actually turn on or adjust their thermostat from their iPhone and actually turn on their oven from their iPhone from home.”

The Eco Village development is part of Planet Green’s “home town heroes” initiative that focuses on providing affordable housing to people like teachers and police officers. An email blast was sent out to people in those professions around Pinellas County. There was some concern that a tough housing market would make marketing the homes difficult, but Planet Green’s Burkett said there are already 91 people interested and only 25 units available.

“We’re going to have to have some kind of lottery system everybody. We can’t give special privileges to any of these 91 people. It’s going to be, he, we’re going to get them qualified and we’re going to have some type of a fair, open to the public selection process for the 25 people who are fortunate enough to be able to come in here.”

Developers are working with officials from Pinellas County to complete the project. Frank Bowman, the county’s housing development manager said plans to build energy efficient homes have been in the works since 2006 when the property was in the hands of Habitat for Humanity. He added in 2008 the housing department was given the land, but because of the real estate crisis, building then wasn’t a viable option.

“And about a year ago we finalized an RFP process where we solicited developers. We selected Planet Green primarily because they were pledging to provide fully LEED certified and net zero energy homes.”

Bowman said the county has wanted to lead the nation in energy efficiency for quite some time, but the Eco Village development is a benchmark they hope to build on.

“We have, over the last seven or eight years, made an effort to make all of our projects – whether we’re doing new construction or we’re doing renovations to make our resulting units as energy efficient as possible. We have some expectations that in the future, all of the projects that we fund will end up being green and will be as energy efficient and if possible, include the net zero energy systems.”

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch hopes the project will serve as inspiration for other communities to take similar actions.

“And when you think about folks having no electric bill in a month, it means something for that family, but long-term for our community and for our nation it really means energy independence moving forward.”

Bowman said the development likely won’t cost the county anything more than man power.

“We do not have any funds committed. There’s a potential of us providing some construction financing, but Planet Green, the developer here, will be going out and getting private investors or banks to finance that. If we can contribute some of those financing dollars, that will just result in the sales price going down a little bit because we would provide more affordable financing.”

The 25 townhomes will cost from $135,000 - $175,000 and will be available in two or three bedroom models. A completion date has not been set, but the first five units will be available for pre-sale within the next month. More information is on their website.

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