By Charlotte Underwood / Staff writer
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear toured the near-zero energy housing development in the Emlyn community in Whitley County on Wednesday afternoon.
The energy efficient housing development in Emlyn has been a project of the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation and 42 other partners, according to Kentucky Highlands President and CEO Jerry Rickett.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the project,” Rickett said, as he welcomed the governor for the tour of the fifth home, which is being completed in the development. The other four homes in the development are already occupied.
The homes are specially designed by University of Kentucky Design students. They are insulated to be air-tight and come fully equipped with solar panels on the roof and General Electric energy efficient appliances inside. Dual electric meters on the outside of the house measure the amount of energy produced by the solar panels, which in turn gets sold back to the Tennessee Valley Authority for 22-cents per kilowatt. Depending on family size and energy usage, some of the families could receive checks for several hundred dollars at the end of the year, according to Rickett.
“I’m impressed; I think it’s a fantastic development, particularly in rural Kentucky,” Beshear said, adding that it was a “win-win” with the appliances being purchased locally from GE in Louisville.
“We tried to use local vendors whenever possible,” Rickett said.
Rickett said he hopes for 13 more houses to be added to the development over time using energy efficient technology. Kentucky Highlands recently got approval from the Whitley County Fiscal Court to apply for a Community Block Development Grant (CBDG)to use for “gap financing” to fund the difference between the cost of building each house and the house’s actual appraisal value, according to Rickett.
The homes are typically built for anywhere from $207,000 to $257,000 and appraise at approximately $116,000. If received, the CBDG will be used to pay this difference, according to Rickett, who said he hopes the project continues to grow.
One of the future hopes for projects such as these is to educate the world about near-zero energy building practices so the appraisal value will reflect the true cost and worth of the homes, according to Kentucky Highlands Director of Housing Tom Manning-Beavin.
The project was made possible with two grants of $300,000 each from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rural Housing Economic Development Program and the CBDG-Recovery Program. However, the project would not have been made a reality without the contributions of the over three-dozen public and private organizations and individuals who helped with the development, according to Rickett.
“It’s a great project; anytime Kentuckians can move into better homes with lower energy costs it’s great,” Beshear said.