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‘Homes of the Future’

Devens Development Will Produce Its Own Energy

June 7, 2011 : The Lowell Sun, by Mary E. Arata

DEVENS – Devens Green. More than a name, it’s the philosophy behind a new neighborhood being carved into the landscape of the former Fort Devens Army base.

Under sunny skies befitting the occasion, officials gathered yesterday on Adams Circle for a groundbreaking ceremony for a groundbreaking project – an eight-home development that will harness the sun.

The “zero net” energy homes – each fitted with a roof-mounted solar array – will produce as much energy as they use. In fact, it’s contemplated that they’d even have some juice to spare. As a result, the garages will double as charging stations for homeowners’ electric vehicles.

These “homes of the future” will also be affordable, with prices starting in the $279,900 to $350,000 range.

“This was for everyday folks … they’re not just high end,” said Townsend developer R. Carter Scott, president of Transformations Inc.

Scott said some “game-changing events” allowed the project to proceed. First, the federal government upped the solar-investment tax credit from $2,000 to up to $15,000 per home. Second, the cost of photovoltaic solar panels has come down. And third, a state solar renewable-energy credit may also generate a benefit of $30,000 to $35,000 per house.

In a positive way, Scott called it a “perfect storm” of circumstances for the project to proceed.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a good portion of the whole country to put together projects like this,” he said.

“We’re witnessing a lot of firsts here today,” said Marty Jones, newly installed as president and CEO of MassDevelopment on May 26.

It was her first public appearance as leader of the quasi-public agency charged with redeveloping the former Army base.

“I’m very happy to mark that here at Devens,” she said.

Jones touted the Devens Green project as the first new single-family development since the base closed in 1996 – and zero-net homes at that.

“We hope there will be many more to come,” she added.

Jones said the homes are “well priced and nicely sized” so they could be “built anywhere in the commonwealth.”

She said the Devens project will serve as a “forum to share the learning and really a model of current and sustainable building practices,” particularly for colder New England climates.

“Governor Patrick has been very energetic in pushing the state” toward such green initiatives, she said, adding that the project will “create both green jobs and housing,” fulfilling two MassDevelopment missions.

“What better place to start than at Devens?” she said.

Transformations was one of two developers from an original field of nine that responded to MassDevelopment’s request for qualifications to develop sustainable housing at Devens. The Transformations project proceeds this year.

Boston-based Devens Net Zero LLC is still seeking the approval of the Devens Enterprise Commission to break ground.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, co-chairs the Joint Committee on Housing. While acknowledging “disagreement on scale and size” of Devens housing projects, Eldridge said, “Part of the solution toward improving the housing market is building more housing here on Devens.”

State Rep. Sheila Harrington, a Groton Republican, said she has met many satisfied customers of Scott’s energy-efficient homes over the past six years in her capacity as a real-estate attorney.

“Not only are his promises kept with regard to zero-net energy homes, but people really like their homes,” Harrington said.

Sitting silently in the audience were husband and wife Bob Eisengrein and Betty Barbadoro, decade-long residents of Devens. They liked what they saw.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Barbadoro said. “We’re anxious to invite new people” into Devens.

Barbadoro also is “happy to have a reputable builder building them.”

“It’s at a cost that people can afford,” Eisengrein added. “They say ‘workforce housing.’ It’s critical. It’s a good example for the commonwealth.”

Eisengrein said Scott deserves a lot of credit.

“He’s way ahead of himself since he’s done this privately,” he added.

© Copyright 2011 The Lowell Sun.