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A clean-energy Texas suburb is making waves and going national. The Whisper Valley community, located just 30 minutes northeast of Austin, is a new master-planned community featuring homes that don’t require air conditioning. Instead, the homes connect to a “geo-grid” network of purpose-built geothermal energy. This technology is known as the geothermal heat exchange and shunts heat from the house into the cool earth more than 300 feet below. This form of clean energy reduces carbon emissions and lowers energy costs for the development’s 400-some residents.
Source: Whisper Valley/Youtube
EcoSmart Solution, an affiliate of Taurus Investment Holdings, is at the forefront of incorporating renewable energy into real estate. They plan to take the Whisper Valley model national, with projects in Florida, New England, and across Texas. Architects have long struggled to get anyone interested in sustainability, but now, the rising public enthusiasm for renewables and concern for Climate change, along with the need for real estate investors to prove their sustainable bona fides, is driving the demand for sustainable building methods.
The past years’ repeated news-making disasters in Texas and elsewhere, in which overstressed urban grids have failed amid extreme weather, have added to this growing demand. This concern for energy efficiency opens the door to a sales pitch that combines cost savings, energy efficiency, and a sense of doing good for the planet. But despite the growing mainstreaming of sustainable concepts, realtors still often pointedly avoid language around climate, renewability, or being “green.” Those concepts “have certain connotations that are not well accepted in certain communities,” said John Rosshirt, former director of the National Association of Realtors.
The Whisper Valley model is unique in that planned communities like these offer developers a clean slate to build energy-efficient neighborhoods from the underground up. EcoSmart Solution’s team was able to go in on the front end and drill a network of hundreds of geothermal wells that allowed them to move heat through the development. This approach has its downsides from an ecological perspective. The development is still being cut from forests growing back over the abandoned cattle pastures from which its houses now rise.
However, each home in Whisper Valley boasts about 4 kilowatts of solar panels, which, when managed wisely and paired with a home battery like a Tesla Powerwall, can power a house nearly around the clock. This kind of practical benefit, coupled with the certainty of a fixed and reduced energy cost amid an era of rising prices for gas heating, has helped change the pitch for renewable energy adoption.
Many homeowners hesitate to invest in solar panels due to the high cost and need for experienced workers to install them. But for planned communities like Whisper Valley, the numbers look different. By starting on a vacant site, they can build energy-efficient neighborhoods from scratch without the need for expensive retrofits of insulation and appliances or costly new interventions like installing solar panels or drilling new boreholes for private geothermal.
Concern for the environment isn’t a luxury concern; it’s something that people want, at least on the margins, at every price point. Lower price points for homes at Whisper Valley are key to mass acceptance. EcoSmart Solution, a company incubated by Taurus Investment Holdings, has been able to approach potential business partners with the ironclad certainty of a decadelong, easy subsidy since the Democrats’ new climate stimulus tax package knocks nearly a third off the cost of all renewable energy.
The Whisper Valley model offers a promising glimpse into the future of the sustainable real estate. By incorporating renewable energy technologies into planned communities, real estate developers can build energy-efficient neighborhoods from the ground up, providing a clean slate to implement environmentally friendly solutions. The rising demand for sustainable housing and the new federal tax incentives for renewable energy provides a fertile ground for developers and investors to explore new possibilities. While there are downsides to this approach, such as the loss of natural habitat, the benefits of reduced carbon emissions and lower energy costs cannot be overlooked.
As we move towards a more sustainable future, we must embrace innovative solutions like the Whisper Valley model and encourage more developers to follow suit. Doing so can create a healthier and more sustainable living environment for ourselves and future generations.
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