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Architect Bill Arthur says his inspiration for home designs comes from the land they sit on.

So how do you make a 5,000-square-foot minimansion mesh with a hillside surrounded by forest and a nature preserve?

To start, you color the houses "green."

Arthur and developer Steven Keyser are collaborating on an unusual subdivision in Salt Lake County's Emigration Canyon that will include seven "zero-emission" homes powered by the sun and maybe the wind. In other words, they should generate as much energy as they use.

And all of the homes' architecture must be contemporary - typically characterized by open floor plans, seamless indoor/outdoor spaces, natural materials and floor-to-ceiling windows.

The latter will take advantage of the panoramas from the ridgeline. On this unfortunate day, the view looks out at a smoggy Salt Lake Valley. The homes also will face Forest Service land and a preserve.

"We want to do something nobody's done," Keyser said during a recent trip, in his Hybrid Highlander, to the subdivision site.

There are other so-called zero-energy homes. Up to 10 such houses are planned in Cedar City. Sacramento sports a subdivision with 95 houses. And a Santa Fe-based nonprofit group called Architecture 2030 is calling for all new buildings to be carbon-neutral in 23 years. Buildings are responsible for 48 percent of all energy consumption.

Keyser's research found the average four-person home annually generates almost 19 tons of carbon dioxide, which is primarily blamed for global warming. Building seven carbon-neutral homes would be equivalent to eliminating 30 cars from the road, he said.

His project, dubbed Snowberry Ridge, was born out of frustration.

Keyser, who considers himself "extremely design conscious," couldn't find a contemporary home to buy. And he struggled to find a suitable green builder.

He bought 70 acres about four miles up Emigration Canyon, sitting above the Emigration Oaks subdivision, and planned to build one home for his family. Then he decided he wanted his two children to have friends to play with. "I might as well make sure all the homes are impeccably designed," he figured, so he learned about solar technologies and resolved, "We might as well employ them."

Arthur has built about 15 contemporary homes the past 20 years and lives in one of them in the canyon. He has created three models for Snowberry Ridge and is prepared to design all seven. Buyers can use their own architects as long as the designs meet Keyser's standard.

The lots will cost at least $1 million and the homes will range from $2.5 million to $3 million.

Keyser recommends the owners install solar thermal heating, which creates hot water to heat the house. The system heats an antifreeze solution that snakes through tubes installed in floors throughout the house. Such radiant floors are more energy efficient than forced-air systems, which heat rooms from the ceiling down.

And solar cells called photovoltaics would supply electricity to the house.

Keyser estimates the systems will cost around $50,000.

The houses also will be designed to use less energy, with energy-efficient appliances and lighting along with well-placed windows with proper shading and insulation.

Over a year, the homes should generate as much energy as they use. But depending on the weather, the solar systems will generate more or less energy. Through net metering, the homes will gain credits for excess energy that is put back into the grid. If they generate more power than they use, their monthly bill would be zero. On days of inclement weather, the tab would be more.

The typical Rocky Mountain Power customer uses 750 kilowatt hours of electricity a month. To date, 109 customers use the net-metering system.

Vicki Bennett, environ- mental-programs manager for Salt Lake City, praises the Snowberry Ridge concept.

"I'm all for it. You can always say, 'Do you need homes this big?' That's beside the point," she said. "You can build homes right now that will be able to be net-zero carbon emissions. And in every case I've seen, you're going to get your money back, even if it's a 30-year payback."

Keyser and Arthur know they are limiting their buyer pool with their design restrictions. Not everybody likes contemporary architecture. But the two believe it's right in a natural setting.

"The Georgian home wasn't made to go on a hillside. It was made to go in a little village," Arthur said. The goal with his designs: "It's really meant to be an object on the landscape that looks like it fits there."

And to fit in, the homeowners will need to be green.

"We really want to make a statement," Keyser said, "by designing an entire subdivision that shows you can do it."

Learn more

* To find out how to sign up for net metering, call Rocky Mountain Power at 888-221-7070.

* To find out more about solar power in Utah, go to http://www.utsolar.org.

* For more information about the subdivision, go to http://www.snowberryridge.com.

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