A city already known for an interest in sustainability and innovation will soon have something else to brag about. Austin, the state capital of Texas, home of the University of Texas, and an international music mecca, will soon have one of the most sustainable neighborhoods in North America.

The first Net Zero Energy community in the United States, Whisper Valley, a 2,000-acre master-planned community, is off the drawing board. The project is adjacent to the new eight-lane State Highway 130, strategically close to a number of big-name electronic and computer corporate campuses and the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

The second quarter of 2015 saw the opening of Phase 1 of the Whisper Valley project, which will eventually include 7,500 Net Zero Energy ready single and multi-family homes and apartments. Final plans include more than 2 million square feet of retail and office space. Parks and ample green space are also included.

Touted as the “greenest” city in the U.S., Austin has passed stringent environmental regulations — with a goal of reaching zero carbon emissions by 2050 — that impact new construction projects.

All of the Whisper Valley homes and commercial buildings will be geothermal and solar equipped, and capable of achieving the NZE carbon neutral standard adopted by the City of Austin’s Municipal Building Code.

To provide for the geothermal ground exchange work for the first homes in the project, drilling started in early March 2015. Geo- Enterprises of Catoosa, Okla., brought in Johnson Drilling out of Blue Ridge, Texas.

Mark Johnson is an old hand at handling geothermal drilling for Phil Schoen of Geo-Enterprises. They have worked together since both started doing geothermal work more than two decades ago.

Johnson has been doing geothermal projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for more than 20 years. He has worked on some of the largest geothermal school projects in Texas, including Frisco District high schools and elementary schools.

“Geothermal is all we do,” Johnson says. “I’ve been in the geothermal business since 1981.” He says the work is steady, although he doesn’t think it is as busy as it used to be.

“We are finished with the Phase 1 drilling work on the first part of the housing project,” Johnson said. The first group will include 240 homes, according to the Whisper Valley plans.

“We worked the project during all the rainy season,” Johnson said. “We were there the same time the dirt contractor was there. All of the roads were still dirt, which made moving around hard without tearing up the roads.”

Johnson Drilling brought two conventional air rotary rigs to the project site. Both are Badger 1250 units, Johnson said.

“On that whole job we had to set up our own water system to keep on drilling,” Johnson said. “We had to bring our own water truck to the site and haul all of the water to keep things moving along.”

Johnson says even though he lost some days, he was able to drill the Phase 1 boreholes on schedule in spite of the weather and having to work around the dirt work contractor.

“We drilled a 5¼-inch hole out there,” Johnson said. The larger diameter was to accommodate the two double u-bend assembly specified on the boreholes.

“It was different using the Rehau pipe,” he said. Two Rehau u-bends were placed in each bore.

Johnson Drilling drilled 39 boreholes at 300-foot deep, and 200 boreholes at 350-foot deep.

Johnson said that the grout used was very high quality. His crew grouted boreholes with TG Lite and PowerTec from GeoPro Inc. The grout is a thermal grout specifically designed to optimize the performance of ground heat exchangers.

Geo-Enterprises is making all of the header and fusion connections and will oversee installing the 6-inch HDPE artery system that will go around the entire development’s perimeter and connect all homes in the development to the district geothermal heat exchange system.

Touted as the “greenest” city in the U.S., Austin has passed stringent environmental regulations — with a goal of reaching zero carbon emissions by 2050 — that impact new construction projects.

Billed as the “genius of nature and man,” the Whisper Valley development will have eco-sensitive, energy efficient custom homes from the upper $100,000 range.

“It’s huge. It’s going to be something else,” Johnson said.

Plans for the sustainable community grew out of a strategic partnership between Bosch North America and Taurus Investment Holdings, a Boston-based real estate development company backed by private investors. Company executives from both partners announced their joint agreement at the International Builders’ Show during Design & Construction Week 2015, in late January at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Homes in the development will include an array of Bosch Energy Starrated kitchen appliances as well as Bosch heat pumps.

Bosch, along with other manufacturing partners BASF, Rehau, Lighting Science Group Corp and Aten Solar, are part of Taurus’ EcoSmart Solution LP subsidiary. ESS develops and implements alternative energy structure programs in large-scale real estate projects.

The ESS network includes technology, construction, communications and finance companies, among others. The ESS solution is being applied to Whisper Valley to meet a growing demand by energy-conscious homebuyers who seek to lock in lower costs for energy by employing ground-source geothermal technology for heating and cooling the home together with solar energy generation. ESS considers combining geothermal with solar the most effective way to achieve Net Zero Energy.

“The alliance with Bosch is essential to delivering affordable reliable and sustainable technologies to homeowners across the U.S.,” said Lorenz Reibling. Chairman and Founding Partner of Taurus Investment Holdings LLC, Reibling is a strong advocate for making building sustainability more available.

“EcoSmart, in conjunction with Bosch, is providing a complete onestop solution package to meet Net Zero Energy standards,” Reibling said. He adds that the homes will provide increased value for homeowners and act as an insurance against rising energy costs.