Green Energy Design Makes Affordable Housing Low Cost to the Community

Real estate prices in California have skyrocketed in recent years, leaving many would-be homeowners in the dust.

This is especially true in San Diego, where high housing costs and relatively low wages have combined to make it the sixth least affordable major metropolitan area in the country, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Cost-efficient family housing is a real concern for the area. However, one company found a way to make affordable housing even more affordable — by using solar energy to offset electricity bills.

Fairbanks Ridge, a 204-unit affordable living apartment complex in San Diego, has more than 1,000 70-watt solar panels on each of its 20 carports. The panels can soak up enough energy to power 50 single family homes — or, at Fairbanks Ridge, a swimming pool, children’s play area, computer room, main office and laundry facility.

But this is more than just a case of charge creativity. Excess power gathered at Fairbanks Ridge is fed back in the local power grid, at which point San Diego Gas & Electric buys it back, giving the complex a credit. Estimations indicate this could result in a $0 power bill for the complex this year.

For residents — two-thirds of which are families earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income — that’s big news. By incorporating ecologically-friendly solar energy into the complex’s design plans, developers Chelsea Investment Corp. has saved its complex and residents, who won’t see communal energy costs passed on through their rent, significant money.

The surrounding area gets a payoff, too. In summer months, air conditioning in some afternoons puts so much pressure on the energy grid that rolling blackouts can leave San Diego residents without power for hours. Solar energy is at its most productive during those hot periods, and the energy Fairbanks Ridge is pouring back into the grid can help prevent outages.

Fairbanks Ridge is a stellar example of addressing the needs of a community as well as a complex. With its early attention to green design, the development has been able to achieve its initial goal of providing affordable housing, offering space and reduced energy costs to its residents. Reducing energy shortages in the San Diego area is an added bonus.

As green design becomes more and more mainstream, let’s hope new developments consider overall energy needs and ecological design practices when planning. After all, there’s no easier way to get a community to welcome a new structure with open arms than to give them extra energy — and prevent their air conditioning shutting from off on a 95 degree day.