As the environmental sustainability movement gathers steam across the country, local governments have started to implement policies that look to preserve the region's natural resources.
This Wednesday, June 17, the Oro Valley Town Council plans to consider a pair of ordinances that would force new development to include technologies that limit water and energy consumption.
"This is a paradigm shift," said Oro Valley planner Bayer Vella.
Vella and other town staffers have been working on numerous environmentally sustainable ordinances and an environmentally sensitive lands ordinance.
The first ordinance would require homebuilders to incorporate solar-ready elements to new homes.
If approved, new homes would have to include stub-outs for seamless hook-up of solar hot water heaters and photovoltaic solar panels for power generation.
Homeowners would have the option of whether to purchase the solar technologies.
The cost to affix homes with solar-ready fixtures at time of construction is estimated to be considerably less than retrofitting a house later.
"There's an aesthetic value to it as well," said Katharine Kent, who owns the Solar Store, a retailer specializing in home-based solar technologies.
Kent said that when houses are retrofitted for solar systems, the plumbing and electrical fixtures often can't be hidden from view, with pipes and cables exposed inside and outside the home.
She said the most cost-effective and simple application for solar power is the many varieties of hot water heaters.
These systems could set back a consumer up to about $1,700 initially. But the benefit comes from the savings on power bills.
"The systems are designed to save about $400 a year," Kent said.
Other more elaborate set-ups include the photovoltaic solar electric systems that can cost as much as $15,000 and more, with numerous tax credits available to offset the price.
Kent said homeowners could expect to reduce their power bill by an additional $40 a month with a solar electric system. Customers can realize greater savings when "net metering" is employed, meaning power companies issue retail credit to homeowners on the power their solar system generates. In some cases this can result in power bills of nearly zero.
With more people turning to solar for their energy needs, the overall effect could mean lower costs for everyone, Kent said.
"We are postponing the time that we have to build a new power plant," Kent said.
A second proposed ordinance would require new homes to be fitted with gray water harvesting plumbing fixtures. Gray water systems would collect water from bathrooms sinks, bathtubs and laundry machines in a reservoir and used for landscape irrigation.
Water from toilets, kitchen sinks and dishwashers can't be used for irrigation.
Town officials estimate the cost to include the system on a new home at the time of construction would run about $300. Retrofitting a house, according to town figures, could cost several thousand dollars.
The potential for water conservation is estimated to be as much as 13,000 gallons per year for a household.
Vella said another ordinance is in the works to have commercial development employ some of the water-saving features in their landscape designs.
Both the ordinances under consideration are based on similar ones the city of Tucson passed last June.
Not everyone likes the idea of forcing homebuilders to include the added fixtures on new homes.
"With the economy down and what's happening with workers and jobs in the community, this really is the wrong time to add to the expense of a house," said Roger Yohem, vice president of the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association.
He also questioned having a municipality mandate that builders include the new technologies regardless of consumer demand.
"Tucson was never able to show any studies that there was consumer demand for it," Yohem said, adding, "we are all for things that save water, especially here in the desert."
The Oro Valley Town Council plans to discuss and possibly vote on the pair of ordinances Wednesday, June 17.
Solar tax credits and rebates
The State of Arizona offers a solar tax credit of 25 percent, up to $1,000, of the cost of a solar system.
The federal government offers a tax credit up to 30 percent of the cost of solar systems, capping the credit at $2,000 for solar electric and another $2,000 for hot water.
Most regional power companies also offer some sort of incentives.
Rainwater harvesting resources