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zHome in Issaquah, WA offers 10 for-sale carbon-neutral townhomes.

With so many buildings LEED certified, you may be asking yourself, where does this all lead to (no pun intended)?

The next wave of green buildings will be the tipping point for sustainability in our cities, the culmination of years of integrating smaller sustainability measures and now envisioning a holistic system for an entire site and how it connects with the environment.

“Net-zero energy,” also called “zero-net energy” or “carbon neutral” communities are starting to spring up around the U.S.  During this somewhat experimental phase of NZE, developers taking the plunge are typically receiving some source of public financing.  But in the long-run, the results of these communities’ successes will drive private development also.

Paisano Green Community Net-Zero Energy affordable senior housing development in El Paso, Texas. Image provided by Workshop8.

Take for example, Paisano Green Community, a 73-unit affordable senior housing development in El Paso Texas.  PGC is funded in part by a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  Developed by the El Paso Housing Authority, this self-sufficient community is set to open on Earth Day 2012.  Boasting large solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays on the rooftops of its 4 residential buildings, residents can expect to pay an annual utility bill of close to $8.  The project will use zero fossil fuels and all energy consumed is projected to be generated onsite.  Recent net metering legislation allows the property owners to sell back excess energy generated to the grid via the local utility company.  Being connected to the grid also serves as back-up in the event that extra energy is needed onsite.  Ultimately the community is designed and engineered projecting carbon neutral results.

NZE has hit the for sale world also.   In Issaquah, Washington, ZHome has brought to market 10 net-zero energy townhomes.  This is the first for-sale development of NZE multifamily product in the United States.

One of the most impressive NZE prototypes is a new community that is part of the UC Davis campus called West Village.  “Students, staff and faculty at the University of California, Davis, are helping pioneer the largest planned zero net energy community in the United States — one that is an ambitious and yet realistic model for the country. About 800 students, faculty and staff, in 315 apartments that opened in fall 2011, are bringing to life the new campus community of UC Davis West Village that will meet its own building energy needs by using aggressive energy efficiencies to reduce consumption and generating renewable energy on site.”

UC Davis West Village offers zero-net energy living for students, faculty, and staff.

While the green movement may still have naysayers, there’s nothing to debate when a property pays $0 in annual electricity costs.  Eliminating use of fossil fuels by generating energy onsite with non-polluting methods such as solar and wind, these new communities are more valuable than their counterparts from the day they open their doors – more valuable to the developer, owner, and the residents, without negatively impacting the environment.  Now that’s true sustainability.