Five years in the making, Zero Place is still a few months from complete, but the net-zero-energy building is complete enough that developer David Shepler was able to invite local dignitaries last Friday to see how it’s all come together. County executive Pat Ryan joined village mayor Tim Rogers and deputy mayor Kt Tobin on the tour.
Zero Place isn’t being watched closely only by people who live nearby and drive past it: Equipment to track energy usage is being installed for state energy officials. The building includes innovative approaches that Shepler believes could inform policy decisions to help meet the ambitious energy-efficiency goals of the state. Reducing energy usage and waste products “is the only answer to climate change” that are generally available now, Shepler said.
Shifting to electrical power and then eliminating fossil fuels from electricity generation is the goal. Current policy doesn’t always address these issues. For example, an older initiative to reduce energy usage penalizes the use of electricity during the peak evening hours. That’s intended to encourage people to run heavy appliances such as dishwashers and clothing dryers at times of day when the load on the power grid isn’t as heavy.
At Zero Place, ironically, the load will always rise toward evening, because the sun is setting and the 688 solar panels will no longer be bringing in the juice. This is going to result in “enormous penalties,” Shepler said. One option to soften that peak being explored is a Tesla-made battery to further support an electrical system humming with power.
No fossil fuels are being used on the site. The residents of the apartments will use less electricity than that generated by those panels.
Behavior matters at least as much as technology. There will be a display of energy use in the building lobby. The usage by apartment — without identifiable information — will be on display. The most efficient residents will be given prizes such as gift certificates.
Wiring is also going to bring Internet access and cable television to residents. As with the water, heat and electricity, this will be included in the rent.
Heat and hot water is being provided by 15 geothermal wells sunk 499 feet into the ground below. The pipes going deep underground contain an ethanol mixture in a closed-loop system that will either pick up excess heat from above and deposit it in the unyielding earth, or will scoop up energy from the near-constant subterranean rock and bring it above. That energy is transferred to individual heating and cooling units in each apartment, and is also used to heat water for use in washing and otherwise. Using geothermal for both heating and cooling, as well as heating water, is unheard of at this scale, according to Shepler.
Much of the geothermal and water-heating apparatus is in the basement of the building, which like all the floors has ample headroom. Pumps will ensure the basement stays dry even when the water runs high.
There are not yet firm commitments for the retail space on the first floor. The hope is for a cafe of some sort to anchor the building. Residents longing for a vaccine may be able to enjoy outdoor dining facing the rail-trail by springtime.
The ground-level views patrons will experience are no match to the ones residents will enjoy from the roof. About 1500 square feet on the north end of the building, overlooking the parking lot, will be set aside as a deck for residents. From it, a panoramic view of the Shawangunk Ridge and much of the nearby village can be seen.
The rail-trail will have a relationship with Zero Place. Users will have access to public restrooms just inside, whether or not they wish to patronize one of the retail establishments. An entrance on the west side of the building will allow access to the five toilet units also used by retail employees and customers. These will be closed overnight.
Most of the roof is covered in row upon row of gently-peaked solar panels, angled low to catch the midday sun for most of the year. When snow comes, Shepler said, the panels won’t work until it melts. It’s too expensive to remove by hand or machine, and that’s already been calculated into the net-zero energy projections.
The estimated monthly rent cost for a two-bedroom unit of $2300 includes water and sewer, heat, electricity, cable television, and Internet access. Living lightly on the earth is the cornerstone for Zero Place, and has its own allure.
Per village law, a handful of the units will be priced lower to meet affordability guidelines. Tenants for the affordable units must be selected from those on a list maintained by members of the affordable housing board. Applications are not yet being accepted for the apartments.