LEXINGTON, Mass. - Massachusetts’ investor-owned electric utility companies - National Grid, NSTAR, Unitil, and Western Mass Electric - have introduced a new energy efficiency pilot program called the “Zero Energy Challenge.” These companies, as members of the Massachusetts New Homes with Energy Star Program, have teamed up and enrolled six builders currently constructing single-family dwellings into the pilot program. The purpose of the initiative is to promote the use of advanced energy efficiency technologies and engage Massachusetts homebuilders in utilizing advanced building techniques.

“The selected homes will serve as ‘laboratories’ to help identify innovative and cost-effective building technologies and practices that can be used by all building professionals interested in constructing homes that have close to zero energy use,” stated David Ruggiero, project administrator for ICF International.

Structured as a competition, the six projects are competing for three prizes totaling $50,000. Each of the homes must be completed by Dec. 10, 2009. The qualifications for the Zero Energy Challenge are such that builders must use best practice HVAC installations, demonstrate the use of advanced and replicable building techniques, as well as integrating the use of renewable energy technologies.

Winners of the Challenge will be selected based on their project scores on the nationally recognized Energy Star/Home Energy Rating System (HERS) rating scale. The HERS index runs from 100 to 0. Typically homes built to the prevailing code standard would score 100, homes built to the Energy Star standard would score 85, and a zero energy home would score 0.

The Zero Energy Challenge has been in the planning stage since the early part of 2008 and is aligned with the Massachusetts energy legislation (An Act Relative to Green Communities) adopted in June. It also complements Governor Patrick’s Net-Zero Energy Goal, which he unveiled in March of this year. The homes, located in the following communities, are a mix of income eligible, affordable, and market rate projects:

• Lawrence - National Grid - Bread & Roses Housing

• Newburyport - National Grid - G&G Realty Trust

• Sudbury - NSTAR Electric - Private residential development

• Townsend - Unitil - Transformations Inc.

• Greenfield - Western MA Electric - Rural Development Inc.

• Turners Falls - Western MA Electric - Private residential development

Some of the homes will be available for public tours in 2009 before the conclusion of the competition. For more information, visit www.zechallenge.com.

Publication date:10/20/2008