By Bob Steenson, firstname.lastname@example.org
An energy-efficient neighborhood in Charles City hosted Iowa’s new governor and lieutenant governor Friday afternoon, showing off a development that state programs played a role in helping start.
Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg visited Parkside Villa, a housing development on the site of the former Jefferson Elementary School on South Main and 9th streets.
The idea of the green community was developed in 2011 in partnership with the Net Zero Alliance, a group of engineers, architects and contractors looking to construct a first-of-its-kind energy-efficient subdivision.
Construction began in 2013 with the aid of a $500,000 Sustainable Communities Demonstration Grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, as well as funds earmarked for mitigating the effects of the 2008 flood.
On Friday, Dean Stewart, owner of Stewart Realty Co., the agency selling the properties in Parkside Villa, showed Reynolds, Gregg and a group of city officials, people involved with the project and media around the neighborhood.
There are now 12 single-family homes and one twin home built in the development, and Stewart said his company is currently bidding four more homes. There is room for 38 homes eventually.
Each home features an array of solar panels on the roof, energy-efficient construction and appliances, and each is tied into a neighborhood geothermal system that circulates water through underground pipes to supply heating and cooling. Solar power also runs the geothermal pumping system.
On a sunny day like Friday, Stewart said, the homes are putting more energy back into the electrical grid than they are using. One homeowner who had just received her monthly utility bill said it was less than $9, he said.
Reynolds said, “Energy has been the focus over the last two weeks of our northeast Iowa tour. It’s one of our priorities that we listed in the four we laid out (when she took office), to have the most innovative energy policy in the nation.
“We want to make sure we can provide low cost, sustainable energy, not only for Iowans but also for business and industry,” Reynolds said. “We have tremendous opportunity to diversify our portfolio, but really to take advantage of the renewable aspect of it because of the natural resources we have in Iowa.
“This really allows us to look at what’s going on, look at best practices and hopefully then talk about scaling so we can say to other communities, ‘Go up to Charles City and see what they’re doing with 30 homes’ in a project that you’ve really utilized a lot of collaboration to get done,” she said.
The group toured a single-family home, one side of the twin home and the community geothermal pumphouse and control system.
Stewart said the homes were built with an emphasis on local craftspeople using local products.
He said infrastructure in that side of town is undersized, but this neighborhood provides most of its own power and also has systems in place so all rainwater is kept on the property and goes back into the ground through holding areas and permeable paving bricks rather than feeding into the stormwater system.
Besides being energy-efficient, the homes are also good to live in, Stewart said.
“I showed you the passive radon-mitigation system, you see all solid-surface floors, the paints are low-VOCs, the appliances, the lighting, the electrical systems, the transfer fans, the hybrid hot water heater — these all add up to a very healthy environment, very clean to breath.
“Energy is one part of it, … but people live in a clean, healthy, safe environment,” Stewart said.
Reynolds said, “We will be talking about this as we travel, so I hope that’s OK if we point them your way because it helps other communities when they can see a finished product and see it’s a reality.
“It’s critical that we get out and see what’s going on in communities,” she said. “Net Zero set some pretty ambitious goals and it’s something that we want to encourage other communities to take a look at.”