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Green Building News

Big Green Ambitions for a University of California Campus

West Village, a housing development underway at UC Davis, is designed to be one of the nation’s largest net-zero-energy communities

Green on campus. The village square at West Village, which is located just west of the University of California at Davis campus.
Image Credit: Urban Village

A housing development proposed in 2004 to accommodate University of California at Davis faculty and students broke ground this week on what could eventually be the nation’s largest net-zero-energy (or maybe near-zero-energy) residential projects.

Once completed, the $280 million community, called West Village, will house about 4,350 residents. The first phase of the two-phase, 205-acre project focuses on a 130-acre site that will include 600 student rental units, 475 single-family homes, about 45,000 sq. ft. of retail space, and a community college.

The development team – West Village Community Partnership, a collaboration between Carmel Partners, based in San Francisco, and Urban Villages, based in Denver – is tackling the village square and student units first. The student housing is expected to be ready for occupancy in the fall of 2011.

The single-family homes will be sold at slightly below market rate, which in the current market would mean a starting price of about $400,000. UC says there already is abundant interest in the houses, which will incorporate passive energy-efficient design and renewable energy features. A lottery will be used to determine who among faculty and staff will be eligible to buy the homes.

Reaching high for high energy efficiency

In terms of its operation, though, the broad vision for the community, located just west of the UC Davis campus, is to make it net zero energy. The California Energy Commission helped get the ball rolling in that direction on Monday with a $1,994,322 grant, made through the commission’s Public Interest Energy Research Program, that is intended to help the university analyze and design energy-saving and renewable technologies for the project, as well as a smart grid that will integrate them.

“We’re trying to figure out what is feasible,” Nolan Zail, principal partner with the West Village Community Partnership, told the Sacramento Bee.

“We’re going to become a living laboratory,” added Sid England, UC Davis assistant vice chancellor for environmental stewardship and sustainability.

If, as the Bee points out, residents waste electrical power and water resources, the community will be hard pressed to meet the net zero goal.

Because the project is so large-scale, though, all kinds of energy-conserving and resource-wasting behaviors are expected to factor into the data that state officials will collect on West Village’s performance. It indeed will be a living laboratory, and it should help considerably in the development of long-term plans to cut building energy use elsewhere in California.

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