There's a new player in the Austin housing market: Elon Musk.
The first Tesla Solar neighborhood—dubbed the nation's most sustainable residential community—will be built in Easton Park, a master-planned community in far Southeast Austin near McKinney Falls State Park. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
Tesla Energy, Brookfield Asset Management and real estate development company Dacra announced the initiative, which aims to create a new model for large-scale sustainable housing projects, on Friday.
"Neighborhood solar installations across all housing types will reshape how people live," Musk said in a press release. "The feedback we get from the solar and battery products used in this community will impact how we develop and launch new products."
Solar + Powerwall battery ensures that your home never loses power
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 9, 2021
The neighborhood could serve as "Austin++," which Musk teased on Twitter in April, calling attention to the "urgent need to build more housing in greater Austin," where the median home sales price has increased $135,107 year-over-year, according to the Austin Board of Realtors. Home sales prices in the forthcoming development were not immediately available.
The first phase of the SunHouse at Easton Park, a provisional name, will begin in June, with a sampling of homes under construction. With insight from the first phase, the second phase will encompass "significantly more homes," according to the release. The goal of the final phase is to establish an "energy-neutral" community, with homes producing enough energy to supply their residents' daily needs and reduce demand on the state's troubled electric grid.
SunHouse residents will also be provided with backup storage in the event of a power outage—a more pressing concern in the wake of the catastrophic winter storm in February—and may even be compensated for supplying excess power to the grid, according to the release.
"As consumers increasingly seek out energy security alongside sustainable places to live, combining Tesla's solar technology with Brookfield's real estate and renewables development capabilities will help us meet demand for environmentally responsible communities of the future," Brookfield Managing Partner Brian Kingston said in a statement.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler welcomed the project, which he called "an example of out-of-box thinking that continues to make our community a beacon of innovation for the rest of the country and world," in a statement.
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Austin parents and grocery store shelves are feeling the effects of a nationwide baby formula shortage.
Caused mostly by a February recall due to contamination issues, followed by the Abbott Nutrition factory closure in Michigan, the shortage has left Austin shelves barren. However, earlier this week, U.S. officials announced a plan with the facility to restart production.
In the meantime, local parents in crisis have turned toward the Mother’s Milk Bank to keep their babies fed.
HEB on East 7th has been picked clean of formula and is limiting purchases. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The milk bank—which takes donations from lactating mothers and dispenses milk to babies in the NICU—has been helping feed upwards of 30 families in need as the formula supply tightens.
According to the bank’s executive director Kim Updegrove, Mother’s Milk Bank has seen an uptick in calls from parents with healthy babies in need of help since the shortage began.
“We aren't used to hearing from families with healthy infants,” Updegrove said. “They're typically very upset, angry, frustrated, sobbing—it's scary to not be able to feed your infants. So in the past few weeks, those calls have been significantly increasing.”
Mothers are only able to donate if they are within a year postpartum, so Updegrove said they are constantly bringing on and retiring donors. While donors had been on a 30% decline leftover from 2021 when the shortage began, Updegrove said the shortage has led to mass community interest and more than 90 prospective donors in just the past few days.
“We and other milk banks are experiencing significant interest from the community—becoming milk donors and helping to turn around this crisis,” Updegrove said. “Every infant needs to be fed, every one of us can relate to that need, and we need to make sure as a community that it happens.”
Whole Foods downtown was also cleaned out of typical formula. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
While you may still be able to find formula at places like Whole Foods—which currently has goat milk, soy and plant-based formula in stock—Updegrove said it might not be what a baby needs.
Updegrove said it is best to buy types that say “infant formula,” as they are FDA approved and will provide the nutrients, vitamins and minerals a baby needs. Plant-based, homemade, non-cow's milk or diluting formula may not provide the same nutritional value.
As the community navigates the shortage, Updegrove said the most important way to help out is to not panic buy or stockpile.
“This is a crisis for families,” Updegrove said. “This is the time for the community to gather together and figure out what everyone can do to help families with young infants.”
Next time you’re sitting at a red light in Austin, you may look over and see a car without a person at the driver’s wheel.
Autonomous vehicle tech company Argo AI has brought driverless operations to Austin and Miami, starting out with only company employees using the service. Later on, tests with Lyft and Walmart will carry out ride-sharing and grocery delivery services, with the help of a human safety operator. The company has already made moves on this front in Miami Beach where some Lyft passengers have used its autonomous vehicles with a human operator.
While its platform is designed for integration with multiple vehicle types, the test fleet uses the Ford Escape Hybrid and VW's all-electric ID.Buzz.
The Pittsburgh-based company says this progress on its autonomy platform has been more than five years in the making and boasted about reaching this milestone before others.
"Argo is first to go driverless in two major American cities, safely operating amongst heavy traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists in the busiest of neighborhoods," said Bryan Salesky, Founder and CEO of Argo AI.
Expect to see the autonomous cars on the road during daytime business hours as the tech aims to learn from a diversity of road infrastructure and driving behaviors.
The company, which is testing in eight cities in the U.S. and Europe, has brought its tech to Austin as the company looks to expand in densely-populated cities. In particular, Argo is looking at ridesharing, delivery and logistics companies for integrating its autonomous vehicles into their digital services.
Argo anticipates its service availability to someday cover more than 15 million people in Austin, Miami and Washington D.C.
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