California’s Prime Solar Powered Real Estate

While there have been reports in recent months of homeowners encountering problems when trying to install solar electric or hybrid renewable energy systems because of strict homeowner association guidelines or local zoning regulations, some California residents are bypassing these issues altogether by purchasing homes in communities where photovoltaics (PV) and energy efficiency are now the norm.

Take Meritage Homes Corporation’s newest development, Encore Community, in Vacaville, California. Each of the 45 homes in the community will be equipped with a 2.3-kilowatt (kW) SunPower SunTile(R) system from SunPower Corporation.

The homes are also built to exceed state and federal energy efficiency standards by 35 percent or more. Meritage expects that the solar power systems, combined with the energy efficient features, will save homeowners up to 70 percent on their electric utility bills.

“Recent builder sales data has indicated that new homes equipped with the SunPower SunTiles system are selling at approximately twice the rate as comparable homes in the same neighborhoods,” said Bill Kelly, general manager of the New Homes Division at SunPower, a Silicon Valley-based manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, solar panels and solar systems.

“Energy prices have risen dramatically over the years. Meritage has recognized that combining high quality, energy-efficient features with solar power systems will result in substantial savings for homeowners,” added Kelly.

To maximize energy efficiency, Meritage Homes, which is headquartered in Arizona and Texas, has included energy-saving windows and insulation, high-efficiency appliances, attic radiant barriers, low-leakage duct work, and tankless water heaters, among other features in the Encore development. The homes meet or exceed the energy efficiency requirements of several state and federal initiatives, including:

• the California Energy Commissions’ New Homes Solar Partnership;
• the US Environmental Protection Agency’s and U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star program, and;
• Building America’s Zero-Energy Homes program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

“We’re very pleased to be offering these zero-energy homes in the Vacaville area,” said Jeff Jacobs, vice president of Meritage Homes’ Northern California/Bay Area Division. “Encore homeowners will benefit from both substantially reduced utility bills and the satisfaction that they are helping to improve the environment by using clean, renewable energy.”

But homebuilding and land development corporations aren’t the only players when it comes to making solar-friendly communities a reality. Earlier this week, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) announced that another 462 solar-powered, super energy-efficient homes will be built in the Sacramento, California area in agreements between SMUD and two homebuilders, Homes by Towne and Centex Homes.

SMUD buys down the cost of solar and energy efficiency equipment to keep the price of the homes affordable to more customers.

Homes by Towne will construct 355 SolarSmart homes in four communities in SMUD’s service territory and Centex will construct 107 in four other communities. The deals are just the latest that SMUD has signed with homebuilders to construct SolarSmart homes in the area.

In March, SMUD announced a partnership with Lennar Homes to build more than 1,200 SolarSmart homes. In May, SMUD signed a deal with Tim Lewis Communities to build 183 SolarSmart homes. Construction has already begun on those homes.

Like Meritage’s Encore Community, the SMUD SolarSmart homes boast energy efficiency measures to help customers reduce their bills year-round, including efficient HVAC systems, radiant barriers in attics, added insulation, duct sealing and energy-efficient compact fluorescent lighting.

Cumulatively, the 1,900 SolarSmart homes that SMUD has partnered with builders to construct are expected to shave nearly three megawatts off peak demand, and help keep power costs low for all customers.

This solar-housing boom in California can be largely attributed to the state’s New Solar Homes Partnership, which provides financial incentives and other support for installing eligible PV systems on new residential buildings that receive electricity from specified investor-owned utilities.

The 10-year, $400 million program is managed by the California Energy Commission (CEC) as part of the California Solar Initiative, which was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on January 12, 2006. Beginning in 2011, the partnership will not only encourage but actually require builders to offer solar as a standard feature in new home developments of 50 or more.

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