Texans will soon be part of long-term green energy experiment that will give government agencies and universities a better understanding of how energy-efficient technology functions in a real-world setting.

The Texas A&M University System and a Dallas-area developer are creating a 1.1-million-square-foot sustainable community 15 miles north of downtown Dallas on a 73-acre lot owned by the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center, a network of research stations that together make up an agency of Texas A&M. The Urban Living Lab will be equipped with 800 apartments, retail space, hotels, office buildings, farmers markets and community gardens. The community’s green technologies — ranging from refrigerators to lighting systems to landscapes — will be monitored over a 50- to 75-year period.

The data collected on energy conservation in an urban setting will be available to local, state and federal government agencies.

“We’d like for government agencies to understand the benefits and get involved in the projects so that as government agencies build new buildings … they will consider the technologies that we will be testing,” said Allan Jones, associate director of the AgriLife Center in Dallas.

Jones said one aspect that makes this project unique is that human attitudes and behaviors in regard to the technologies will also be monitored and collected during the five decades. However, unlike The Truman Show — the 1998 movie starring Jim Carrey about residents who were the unwitting stars of a 24/7 TV series — all 3,500 residents in this Texas experiment will sign a full-disclosure contract before moving in.

The $127 million project will take from three to seven years to build, depending on how quickly the economy recovers, Jones said. Groundbreaking is scheduled to occur in late 2011.

More than 20 private-sector companies already have signed on to test their green products in the homes. Mandatory product upgrades are planned to occur every seven to 10 years.

“[Companies] don’t know if what they measure in the lab is actually panning out in the real world,” Jones said. “They are very interested in people’s responses to their new technologies.”

Ideally the community will have several different manufacturers of each product strategically placed throughout the buildings, as a way to directly compare each technology, said Jones.

Several Texas state agencies also have approached the developers about getting involved.

The Texas Water Development Board and Dallas have shown interest in participating in the community’s plan to use runoff rainwater for all landscaping purposes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering permanently stationing staff onsite, and the State Energy Conservation Office might contribute solar panels to the project. Other environmental agencies have offered to participate in educational research and funding.

“We’ve encouraging governments to come and look,” said Jones. “There are a variety of ways they can be involved.”

Lauren Katims Nadeau  |  Contributing Writer