Norwest Mortgage Inc. will serve as preferred lender for a prototype energy-efficient community north of Chicago.

The community, Prairie Crossing, is part of a refuge of 2,000 acres preserved through a cooperative consisting of public officials and private property owners.

Norwest, the nation's largest retail mortgage lender, will work with purchasers of as many as 317 single-family homes that are outfitted to use 50% less energy than standard residences.

A Norwest spokesman said the resulting reduction in utility costs would allow purchasers to borrow an estimated 7% more than they would for an untreated home.

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