A new affordable housing development sets a new standard for energy-efficient, 100% electric, and solar homes in Fort Bragg.
Called The Plateau by The Danco Group, an Arcata developer of some of the first 100% solar-powered affordable housing in California, the $28.8 million project at 441 South Street will feature 69 cottages and townhomes with a mix of one, two, and three-bedroom apartments for low-income seniors, individuals, and families.
Solar rooftop panels provide 100% of the project’s net energy use, and there is no natural gas line to the property. The walls of these new homes are wrapped and stuffed with R-21 insulation, and the attics are padded with R-49 insulation. Then each unit is outfit
ted with Energy Star all-electric appliances, LED lighting, highly efficient heating, air conditioning, and hot water systems. Five electric vehicle charging stations complete the all-electric project.
“We think it’s the wave of the future, that gas is going to be obsolete at a certain point. We want our buildings to stand the test of time and be compatible with potential future policy changes,” said McKenzie Dibble, project manager for The Plateau.
A net-zero energy building or development must create enough energy on-site—using alternatives to fossil fuels—to equal the total energy it uses each year. Such buildings reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as required in the sustainability section of Fort Bragg’s updated 2014 general plan and by California legislation and the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. With its general plan update, Fort Bragg became a national leader in requiring net-zero energy and LEED platinum certification, the highest level of building energy efficiency, for all new buildings and remodels.
That same year, 2014, Danco Group completed Fort Bragg’s Cottages at Cypress, an all-electric community of colorful and affordable tiny homes for seniors near Adventist Health Mendocino Coast hospital that, at the time, was Fort Bragg’s first 100% net-zero energy housing development and won awards for being the largest such development in the nation.
“In this second development in Fort Bragg, advanced heating and cooling technology make the homes even more energy-efficient. But this time around, there’s no record-setting because this type of net-zero energy new home construction is now standard in the city and state,” said Sean Armstrong, managing principal of Redwood Energy of Arcata, the certified energy analyst and energy design consultant for Danco Group developments.
The electric vehicle charging stations at low-income developments can change tenants’ lifestyles, said Armstrong, who remembered a senior at Danco Group’s Cottages project, which bought a used EV to take advantage of free fuel. “In rural areas, gas is expensive, and a development with free charging may be the difference between tenants driving or not,” he said.
Because The Plateau is an all-electric and affordable housing development. It was awarded $345,000 in incentives—$5,000 per home—through the Advanced Energy Build program offered by Sonoma Clean Power, the public electricity provider for Mendocino County and the development.
“You can’t address the climate crisis without addressing natural gas,” said Scott Salyer, Advanced Energy Build program manager for Sonoma Clean Power. “In order to reduce climate-warming emissions in our service territory of Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, it is going to be critical to electrify not only all new homes but the existing homes as well,” Salyer said the program is taking applications through June for $2.2 million in construction rebates for all-electric homes and plans to offer a next-generation version of the program as early as 2023.
The Plateau also qualified for $3 million in state grant funding for 20 permanent housing units with support services for residents facing homelessness. In addition, it received federal and state tax credits, city and county Homeless Emergency Aid Program grants, and other funding available to affordable and all-electric housing developments. Pacific Western Bank provided construction and permanent financing through its Community Benefits Program.
“When we get funded for these projects, we promise that we will rent only to people and families whose income is between 30 and 60 percent of the county median income,” said Dibble of the senior and family sections of The Plateau. She said the rent for a family at 30% median income in Mendocino County for a two-bedroom house will be $438; for a three-bedroom 1,200 square foot house, $1,011.
Dibble said utilities are included in the rent. Armstrong, the project’s energy engineer, pointed out that’s a win-win for everyone: Tenants don’t have to worry about utility bills, and the development’s solar energy system keeps utility costs very low and will be paid off within about four years, providing a net financial benefit that enables Danco Group to continue developing net-zero energy, low-cost housing.