Ready-made solar houses


Wouldn't it be grand if you could live in a house that never racked up a single electric bill? Some homeowners have pursued that goal by retrofitting their homes with solar or wind power, though it's not easy to achieve the wondrous state of "net-zero" -- defined as any building that produces at least as much energy as it consumes. But now, you can choose such a house right off the shelf, so to speak, from some local developers, reports the Denver Post. Though they're not cheap, they're not out of bounds for families with a couple of incomes. Denver-based New Town Builders, for instance, offers a $424,000 model with rooftop solar panels, guaranteed to "generate enough extra power to offset utility costs." There is one hitch, however: Mortgage underwriters "typically do not take into account energy-saving features that boost purchase prices," and New Town says the solar panels add $26,900 to the cost of its net-zero houses. Help might be on the way from Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who has introduced a bill directing federal mortgage-loan agencies to consider the expected reductions in energy costs when calculating loan costs. His bill, called SAVE, for Sensible Accounting to Value Energy Act, awaits a hearing in the Senate Banking Committee. While it may take time for buyers to seek out net-zero homes, John Bringenberg of SunTalk, a company that installs solar panels, predicts that in a decade, every house will have some solar component: "A house isn't going to just sit there in the sun; it will generate electricity."

More good green news comes from a city that was smart enough back in the mid-'90s to start planning a more sustainable future, reports Governing magazine. In a community effort called "Envision Utah," Salt Lake City residents planned 40 and even 50 years ahead. Goals included reducing sprawl and driving time, cutting down on air pollution and retaining the precious open space near the mountains. They concentrated on planning for "higher-density developments around mass-transit stops" -- creating places where cars could be abandoned in favor of walking or taking light-rail trains or streetcars to work, stores and school. If that vision holds, the Greater Wasatch area -- a narrow, 120-mile strip where about 80 percent of Utah's population lives -- will "conserve 23 square miles of open space, reduce traffic congestion by 18 percent, and increase (mass) transit use by 12 percent," predicts the federal Housing and Urban Development agency.

Thanks to the 23-to-30-foot-high fence across the Nogales border with Mexico, the Tucson Weekly finds that marijuana smugglers and U.S. Border Patrol have begun playing a vigorous "game" that resembles a blend of monkey-in-the-middle and football. "There are quarterbacks in Mexico and receivers in the U.S.," said Lt. Gerardo Castillo of the Santa Cruz County Metro Task Force. "We try to intercept, obviously."

High Country News Classifieds