Post-Katrina New Orleans looks to the sun

The still-prevalent devastation of Hurricane Katrina is beginning to subside as new homes and buildings rise, pheonix-like from the yesteryear rubble. Many of these new buildings are being constructed with the sensibility of Daedalus, incorporating cost-effective green building principles and photovoltaic (PV) arrays. State legislation and federal solar incentives have made building with PV cost-effective in Louisiana and the effort is boosted by organizations including Make It Right Foundation, a project spearheaded by Brad Pitt; Global Green—the United States arm of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Green Cross International, and the Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association, which is receiving help from actor Wendell Pierce, a son of New Orleans.

A recent National Geographic article, “For Hurricane Katrina Victims, A Solar Restart,” showed how the aftermath of the storm is leading to a brighter future for the people of the New Orleans. Make It Right, for instance, plans to complete construction on 150 homes in the ninth word by December 2010. Plans for the homes have been donated from architects, spanning the globe. Each of the houses built through the campaign are LEED Platinum certified, meaning they have incorporated sustainability, including PV systems.

Because of state and federal incentives, the cost of a PV system in New Orleans and Louisiana is roughly 20 percent what it would otherwise be, according to National Geographic. The publication reported that State Senator Nick Gautreaux (D), sponsored a state tax credit for renewable energy in 2007 that allowed a tax credit of 50 percent, up to $25,000 of a PV or renewable energy system’s costs. On top of that, residents are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit, effectively covering 80 percent the system’s costs.

Robert Green is one resident who rebuilt his home, taking advantage of the incentives. Despite losing his mother, three-year-old granddaughter and home in Katrina, he told National Geographic, “A sense of family and community is still here.” Green’s new home has a 3 kilowatt PV system on it. The 1,800-square-foot home was built as part of the Make It Right effort and cost him $126,000. The new home has Energy Star appliances and was built to minimize the need for extra energy use—Louisiana’s summers are notoriously swampy and feel intensely hot because of the humidity. He says the PV system and energy efficiency have helped him reduce his summer electric bill from $300 a month in his old home to $125 a month.