Once all 400 lots at SouthCliffe are filled with homes, the Southridge housing development will be the nation's largest geothermal neighborhood, according to the geothermal system's manufacturer.
EnerGeo of Richland already is installing a geothermal heat pump system for the first 18 lots of the subdivision off Sherman Street.
Developers Milo Bauder and Grant Young held a groundbreaking Friday for the subdivision and the geothermal project. The first lots on the southwest side of Thompson Hill should be ready to sell by Oct. 1.
"It's going to be a gem, an asset," said Kennewick Councilman John Hubbard.
Young said the developers decided to add geothermal grids to each lot because of the environmental benefits and the cost savings homeowners will get on their energy bills -- which could be 50 to 70 percent less.
"It's very cost-effective," Young said. "It's very energy efficient."
Once finished, the geothermal grids will have a thermal energy capacity of more than 5.5 megawatts -- the same as about three and a half wind turbines at Nine Canyon Wind Farm south of Kennewick, said Tyler Kafentzis, EnerGeo owner.
The full project is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 10,000 metric tons each year, he said.
The three-quarter-inch, high-density polyethylene pipes laid out 8-feet deep in the ground don't look awe-inspiring. And once buried, all that will look different from other lots are the exposed portions of the piping ready to connect to a geothermal heat pump when the home is being built.
The system will use the near constant temperature of the ground to heat and cool the home, Kafentzis said. Water will run through the pipes, and the system will use the ground as a heat source in the winter and a heat sink in the summer.
That means when it is hot outside, the heat inside the home will be used to heat hot water and the excess heat will be pushed into the ground. And when it is cold outside, the heat of the ground will be used to warm the home and heat hot water.
A pool, hot tub and water heater all can use the geothermal grid, he said.
Kafentzis said the geothermal heat pump replaces a conventional heating and cooling system. Geothermal is an old concept that has become more economical because of better technology and design. He said the Tri-Cities is particularly suitable to the technology, in part, because of its soil.
The system should pay for itself in about five years. While the grid will add about 5 percent to the cost of the lot, homeowners will benefit from energy savings immediately, and also will qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit, Young said.
Lot prices in the first phase range from about $87,000 to $140,000, according to documents provided by the developers.
Young said they plan to pre-install the geothermal grid with each phase of homes. Those phases will be prepared according to demand.
In addition to the first 18 lots, the developers and general contractor E-Mac are already preparing another 11 lots on the top of Thompson Hill. Young said those lots should be ready to sell by Jan. 1.
Young said builders already have expressed interest in the lots. Terri Hash, a Distinctive Properties broker who is representing the development, said they already have 10 builders who have been approved to build in the neighborhood.
The homes are planned for about 286 acres west of South Sherman Street and north of the future extension of Hildebrand Boulevard.
The subdivision will be built on about 144 of those acres, with the north side of Thompson Hill left undeveloped, said Young.
"It's going to be a great hillside view community," Hash said.
Bauder said SouthCliffe fits well in with the city of Kennewick's plans for developing the Southridge area.
The city has been adding infrastructure, such as streets, and already built the Southridge Sports & Events Complex.
Kennewick General Hospital's Southridge hospital is under construction and expected to open next year. And Kadlec Health Systems recently opened a standalone emergency department at Highway 395 and West 19th Avenue.
Bauder said they hope some of the medical professionals who will be working in the Southridge area will want to live at SouthCliffe.