Developers do not need to be limited to building only on land with access to natural gas. Community propane systems have proven to be a viable alternative, opening possibilities for planned developments in places without existing gas infrastructure.

A community propane system fuels multiple homes with propane, a low-carbon, efficient and cost-effective fuel. Using this kind of system helps developers bypass costly and time-consuming approvals for natural gas service (it can cost more than $1 million per mile to extend a natural gas line) while equipping homes with efficient gas appliances.

Take The Hollows, for example.

The Hollows is a master-planned community on the shore of Lake Travis in Lago Vista, northwest of Austin, Texas. The development spans 1,400 acres of Texas Hill Country and offers luxury lake living within minutes of shopping, restaurants, entertaining, and major employers, along with resort-style amenities, miles of golf cart and hiking trails, and homes constructed by some of Austin’s leading homebuilders.

Gas appliances without the grid

The Hollows was made possible, in part, by propane. Natural gas wasn’t an option due to the area’s rocky topography, and the developer didn’t want to go all-electric, citing homeowners’ desire for high-performance gas appliances.

“They want to see the blue flame,” says Mark Baresel, operations manager at Meritum Systems, propane supplier to The Hollows.

Propane is used in homes and community buildings throughout the development for domestic heating, hot water, cooking, outdoor stoves and barbecues, and several back-up power generators. Private swimming pools are also served by propane, as is an amenity center with enclosed spaces and pools.

On-site storage

Community propane systems connect homes in a planned development to a centralized storage tank (or tanks) of propane gas through a network of underground pipes. Because each home is separately metered, the homeowner pays a monthly rate for the propane they use, just like they would for natural gas.

The Hollows straddles two municipalities: Lago Vista and Jonestown. The Lago Vista side of the development uses individual 500-gallon propane tanks buried on each of the 375 lots. On the Jonestown side, two centralized storage tanks will serve about 625 lots when the property is fully developed.

Meritum pays for the infrastructure but charges a connection fee to the builder.

A reliable fuel

With propane as the primary fuel source, some homeowners have expressed concern about running out of fuel. It’s an unlikely possibility. Baresel assures them: “Every tank has a monitor on it, and the servicer doesn’t let the level get below 30 percent for individual tanks or 40 percent for community tanks. The propane delivery truck arrives the next day to refill the tank. In addition, we are always watching the weather for ice storms or other weather systems that could disrupt power or service.”

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