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Breaking the rules

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While many consumers may have a genuine desire to “go green,” chances are they don’t want to give up any of the modern amenities or services that they’ve grown accustomed to in American society.

Paul and Lynn Hunt, founders and principal and chief executive officer, respectively, of Hunt Utilities Group in Pine River, believe you can have them both.

Their son, Ryan Hunt, who is in charge of shop research, coined the phrase, “decadent sustainability.” To the Hunts, it evokes a feeling of self-indulgence, of being able to own a comfortable, beautiful home with all the amenities you would ever want, but a home that is still very affordable, energy efficient and agriculturally resilient.

“I want decadent sustainability,” said Lynn Hunt. “I don’t want to give up a lifestyle I enjoy.”

“You don’t want to just survive a storm, you want to dance in the rain,” added Paul Hunt.

At the 70-acre HUG campus, located not far from downtown Pine River, the for-profit organization is researching and developing technologies and ways to support sustainable living and environmental stewardship. Even the Hunts’ home, which is built on the property, is part of their research. It is called the ARC, which stands for agricultural resilient communities. Their hope is that they can create energy efficient yet sustainable and affordable homes that provide heating and cooling with minimal cost or energy usage that also will feed you — literally. These homes will have an outdoor garden and warm, sunny porches that can double as greenhouses.

Their mission statement: “Do good, have fun, and make a living at it,” said Lynn Hunt.

“Everybody has the ability to be more resilient,” she explained, citing examples such as raised garden beds or small container gardening.

HUG’s mission is to find ways to “shorten the loop,” which means strengthening the local economy by using local construction materials and local energy sources, preferably the sun; raising your own food; and recycling your water.

The campus has three energy efficient model homes that have been built since the campus opened in 2003. While the homes have been used to house interns and other HUG staff and volunteers, they now happen to be unoccupied. The Hunts would like to conduct a social experiment, renting out the homes to individuals or families who would like to create an agricultural resilient community. Each unit has its own garden in which the renter may grow food.

With food costs on the rise, Lynn Hunt said these types of housing situations are ideal. Even without an uncertain economy, they are still beneficial to save money and be sustainable.

HUG employees are continually conducting research on the campus. Paul Hunt said there are more than 1,000 sensors on the campus collecting data on various projects, a system called HUGnet.

At the Hunts’ home, which they call a living lab, they use solar-powered hot water to heat their home. They have installed two sets of windows to improve energy efficiency by attempting to eliminate drafts. It also was half the price of buying energy efficient windows. Marvin Windows sent a research team to the HUG campus to check out the windows and their research, said Paul Hunt.

At nearby Old Main, where administrative offices and their nonprofit Happy Dancing Turtle, an outreach and educational organization, are headquartered, the kitchen staff are busy each day preparing healthy, locally grown lunches in the cafeteria.

All 23 HUG employees, as well as volunteers, are emailed a menu for lunch. In the summer at least 80 percent of meals are grown in the gardens behind the building. They are given details on each ingredient and where they are sourced, explained Lynn Hunt. They also have chickens, which produce eggs, and have hoop houses that allow the traditional growing season to be extended.

Lynn Hunt is working with Region 5 and local growers to attempt to create a food hub model, which would involve the creation of regional, commercial grade kitchens. This would allow local growers to can, freeze and dry their produce and other products, as well as prepare them to be sold to local schools. Classes could be offered there so residents could learn how to grow and preserve their own food, said Lynn Hunt.

The HUG campus also houses a 15,000-square-foot manifesting shop. The building was built with the highest of energy efficiency in mind. The average heating bill for the entire building is only $75 a month, Paul Hunt said. It is primarily heated with solar energy, with heat from the sun sent traveling through 10 miles of tubing to the ground beneath the building, which radiates heat. The shop has 76 solar panels, the largest solar hot air array on any building in North America, according to Paul Hunt. The building’s roof is a field of prairie grass, a natural insulation that absorbs the sun’s warmth.

The manifesting shop is shared with the Rural Renewal Energy Alliance, or RREAL, which builds solar energy panels, providing them for low-income families through its solar energy assistance program.

Paul Hunt is also developing the concept of utility cores. This concept involves dropping a small factory manufactured room in the center of the house that has everything that a home would need in order to function, including sewer and freshwater hookups and air exchange. This would allow all utilities in the home, such as the bathroom and laundry room, to be easily connected and built around the CORE. Instead of having to coordinate work by various contractors, a CORE room would already have the electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems in place and ready to be extended.

Hunt said the CORE could also be used as a storm shelter and would have the ability to store heat underneath. He said the CORE concept could be used for low-income housing or for multi-million dollar lake homes. They are highly practical and very easy to maintain, he added.

Hunt is also working to prove cold fusion is a possibility, a low energy reaction that would have enormous implications for providing cheap and available energy.

HUG recently invested in an old electron microscope in order to conduct research on cold fusion.

“This is fun because it is on the frontier of science — nobody really understands it,” Paul Hunt explained.

The HUG campus is visited often by politicians, researchers and other people interested in what the staff is doing, they said. U.S. Senator Al Franken recently was there.

Paul Hunt has been an inventor since he blew up his mother’s kitchen in Brainerd as a boy.

Paul and Lynn Hunt started Hunt Technologies out of their Brainerd home back in the mid-1980s, moving the company to Pequot Lakes in 1994. They invented the Turtle, an automated meter reading device that used power lines to transfer meter readings and data to utilities companies. In 2000, Crow Wing Power bought a majority interest. In 2006 the company was sold to the Bayard Group, which consolidated all of its subsidiaries underneath Landis+Gyr.

The HUG campus is financed by the proceeds from the sale of Hunt Technologies, the Hunts said.

For more information on HUG and its mission, visit its website,