SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) — After a week of intermittent power outages in the North Bay, the concept of being free from the grid seems pretty appealing. But even in an area hit hard by disaster, the idea is taking some getting used to.
Two years ago, the Tubbs Fire ravaged the Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa. Today, homes are in various stages of reconstruction as people rebuild their neighborhoods. But there is one house on Shelbourne Way that has been rebuilt with a whole new idea in mind called “Net Zero Energy.”
“The Net Zero Energy part means, essentially, that the home is designed to supply all of its own energy needs on an annual basis,” said Ann Edminster, a green-building consultant for builders.
The house is all-electric with modern, efficient appliances, high-tech skylights, super-insulated walls and triple-pane windows.
But the solar panels on the roof and the 9.8 kilowatt storage battery in the garage enable the home, if desired, to operate without relying on—or paying—PG&E for power. While the house can operate independently, it is connected to the main grid, which enables the homeowner to sell excess power back to PG&E.
“So that’s security, right?” Edminster said. “That means when you buy the house, you’ve paid your utility bill in advance for the life of your living in the house.”
In an area that just experienced a multi-day blackout, you’d think people would be flocking to the new technology. But realtor Mark Spaulding, who is marketing the property, says out of 340 single-family homes listed in Santa Rosa, the house on Shelbourne is the only one with an integrated solar and battery system.
He thinks developers have been wary about adding the $40,000-plus cost of that house to their projects. But the frequency of PG&E’s public safety power shutoffs may change that.
“They haven’t been sure there’s a market there. And these types of events solidify that,” Spaulding said. “I think there is a market and there’s an evolving market.”
Advocates for independent energy systems like Edminster believe home buyers will become more accepting of that cost as their fears about natural disasters grow stronger.
“And so, anything that we can do to improve our resiliency is very, very appealing,” she said. “We would love all homes to be designed like this right now, but it’s not happening. Five years from now, I think it will be a very different story.”
The Shelbourne house is currently listed at $799,000, making it one of the most expensive houses on its street. But the realtor says there has been increased interest in it following last week’s power outage.