In March 2012, West Liberty, Ky., a community of 3,400 in Morgan County, was hit by an EF-3 tornado. The town suffered $50 million in damage, 400 homes were demolished, and seven people were killed. Morgan County lost more than $9 million in residential, farm, commercial and industrial assessments from 2012 to 2013.

The community opted to build back with strong reliance on a green-building model, using a comprehensive planning process that involved community leaders, state nonprofits and educational institutions, including the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research, Kentucky Innovation Network office at Morehead State University, and the Regional Technology and Innovation Center. Lexington-based consulting firm Midwest Clean Energy Enterprise led the effort.

“We were called in to help develop the West Liberty Strategic Report, a strategic plan to help rebuild the community’s buildings and economy as a whole,” said Bobby Clark, co-founder and director of business development. “And, even though the community is in the middle of coal country, the decision was made to include a focus on sustainable strategies in doing so.”

The first phase involved constructing 52 new Energy Star-certified housing units, many of which use renewable technologies. These include a 48-unit, energy-efficient apartment development, plus four single-family homes—two with solar—that will provide a test case for new net-zero energy designs and technologies.

Commercial Bank, destroyed in the tornado, designed and constructed its new facility to LEED Gold standards.

“Even though the new bank building is larger than the old one, they are realizing a savings of about 45 percent on utility bills in the new facility,” Clark said.

The bank uses the West Liberty Energy Efficiency Education Dashboard, which is on display in the lobby. It monitors energy used in the bank, in four of the apartment units, and in two of the new Habitat for Humanity homes. For the sake of comparison, it also measures energy consumption of an older home.

West Liberty is now an eco-tourism destination. In 2016, total assessments in the county were $266 million, surpassing what they were before the 2012 tornado.