Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Ground-Breaking Development

In Grafton, Illinois, front-page news in the local paper was a new housing development featuring "net-zero" affordable housing.  We HAD to check it out. The ground-breaking was Tuesday, and the marina at Grafton Harbor kindly loaned us their stylin' red pickup truck for the 20-minute drive to nearby Jerseyville.

At the edge of a cornfield, about 30 people in business attire had gathered under a tent, shovels and hard hats at the ready. The term "net-zero" refers to the utility bills--there won't BE any.

The small, ranch-style houses will have roofs covered by solar panels--and each will have its own small wind generator. The design also features energy conservation through extra insulation and "energy-star" appliances. The folks involved believe it's the first such project in the nation for the affordable housing market.

Rural families with a household income less than $41,000 per year will be able to rent the homes for $590 a month. "That's what I'm paying now for a similar-sized house," said one Jerseyville resident who had come to check it out--and find out how to apply.  "I pay $200 a month for utilities.  So that would be a good savings!"

Bill Luchini, the energetic president of Capstone Development Group, told us how the project came to be:  His accountant called him up one day to say, "I ran the numbers, and I think this could really work!" The project will receive federal tax credit equity from the National Equity Fund and some financing from the Illinois Housing Development Authority as well as a local bank.  Luchini says it's not uncommon to find energy-efficient or alternative energy-focused housing developments in big cities and high-income areas, but using solar and wind power for affordable housing is a new idea.

We were interested to meet Jeff Lewis, president of Mid-America Solar, which is installing the solar panels for the project.  Lewis used to work as a goldsmith, but told us, he got fired up one day when he read about a local town that needed streetlights for its dark, forbidding streets but was facing a steep bill, since the power lines had originally been installed behind houses, not on the street side.

Lewis was inspired to invent a solar-and-wind powered streetlight (which is patent-pending), and to launch his new company.  Just another ordinary American thinking creatively about alternative energy technology.


  1. This is a wonderful use of technology! If every builder could put solar panels and personal wind turbines as standard issue for new builds in this country we wouldn't need to be so dependent! I am so glad you shared this, it just fuels my passion to learn even more about this technology as I earn my Ag Engineering degree at PSU.

  2. It was a pleasure to meet you both! Thanks for the kind words.
    We are very proud to be included in this project. The Streets will be lined with The Patented Twain Technology lighting System, each home will have 7,350 watts of solar and 1000 watt vertical axis wind turbine on its roof. The resource center will be powered by a ground mount 11.8kW solar array. In all there will be over 282kW of renewable energy at the Lexington Farms Subdivision.
    I pray for your safe passage on the mighty river. I know you have a wonderful time traveling the back water ways of this great country.

    Jeff Lewis
    MidAmerica Solar LLC

  3. What a great project these builders are undertaking. I hope it all works out for the good of the people and the country. We need more forward thinking projects in this country and I hope this is only the beginning for the every day consumer. Conserving more, consuming less. Again, thanks so much for sharing.