The St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity Eco-Village Project is a great example of what low- to moderate-income housing can become in the rapidly emerging solar economy.
In partnership with the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, the Eco-Village Project takes a holistic approach to carbon negative solar-powered neighborhoods that produce more renewable energy than the energy (fossil or other) they consume. The St. Croix Valley project is distinguished from other sustainability projects by a quadruple-bottom-line that encompasses design and performance across four metrics: environmental, social, economic, and community.
Comprising 18 LEED Platinum houses with both solar hot water and five to six kilowatts (kW) of grid-tied photovoltaics on each (besides an additional 75 kW solar farm), the eco-village is capable of renewable energy-positive and carbon-negative performance. Rainwater harvest, edible landscaping, community gardens, permeable driveway and trails, rain gardens, a community center, and many other permaculture-inspired features elevate the standard of living for eco-village residents while offering a long-term return on investment.
The sustainability-driven concept for the Eco-Village Project originated in 2007, with formal planning, design, and partnerships underway in 2010, and ground breaking for the first six homes in July 2012. The anticipated five-year build out for Eco-Village 1 is being fast-tracked to completion within three years. Eco-Village 2 is already in discussion and conceptual planning in a neighboring community, and will be roughly twice the scale as the first. According to Kelly Cain, director of the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development, all Eco-Village 1 homes will be completed in 2015 and construction on Eco-Village 2 is expected to begin in 2016.
Thanks to this collaboration between corporate sponsors, community partners, and Habitat for Humanity International, the solar-powered potential of the future is already becoming a reality for those most in need but typically least able to afford it. The Eco-Village Project models moving “beyond sustainability” to “re-localization of community economics” based on a solar economy.