The transition to a clean and renewable economy includes many paths from all the economic sectors. Some of the transition decisions are made by government, some by business and NGOs, and some by individuals. When it comes to individuals, there are multiple options, such as where we live, our homes and how we live in them, what we eat, what we throw away, and how we travel, to name a few.
When it comes to getting around, the options are varied: walking, biking, ride-sharing, using public transportation, and driving a car, whether gas or electric. In most cases, it’s a combination of these options.
As a self-proclaimed energy geek, I take pride in regularly assessing my energy footprint. I’ve been doing this since the first Earth Day in 1970 when I was a junior in college (yes, I’m dating myself!). I’ve also been labeled as “frugal” by my friends and acquaintances, an apt label considering I still have some shirts from the 1970s. Both my educational training and work in the clean energy space over 40-plus years allow me to tackle both energy and financial impacts systematically.
This particular skill set came in handy when my 2010 Toyota Prius, with 135,000 miles, started to show signs of age and expense. It was time to use my energy assessment tools and frugal habits to select the best vehicle that fit my values. For me, the decision was based on current and future driving patterns, energy and environmental impact, and price ( incentives included).
I walk or bike for most of my short trips in Madison, WI, that are 5 miles or less. My partner of eight years lives almost 10 miles away, and I usually drive to her place three or four times each week. We are both retired and go on occasional daily or weekly road trips that can be hundreds of miles away.
The Inflation Reduction Act now offers up to $4,000 tax credit for qualified used plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that are at least two years old, are purchased after December 31, 2022, from a certified car dealer, cost less than $25,000, and have 7 KW or higher battery storage. To be eligible for the tax credit, an individual must have an Adjusted Gross Income of $75,000 or less and $150,000 or less for married couples for the current or previous tax year.
So, for me, the goal was to find a plug-in electric hybrid that delivered at least 25 miles on electric power, got good gas mileage, had less than 50,000 miles on the odometer, and would qualify for the federal tax credit.
The most likely candidates to fit these requirements were the Toyota Prius Prime, the Hyundai Ionic, and the Kia Niro. All three could be charged overnight using a standard 120-volt outlet, which I had next to my driveway. There are pros and cons for each of these, based on personal preferences and price. In total, my search lasted about six months.
Major online car retailers, like Carfax and Autotrader, helped to determine what was available within a reasonable distance from Madison. Unfortunately, I was unable to find eligible vehicles in the immediate Madison area during this time period. Locating an eligible vehicle for less than $25,000 was also a major limiting variable.
Eventually, I found and purchased a 2018 Toyota Prius Prime from a car dealership in Eau Claire, WI, that met my requirements. After almost three months of charging and driving, I’m pleased with my purchase. The car has been delivering a pretty standard 30-31 miles on pure electric power in town, and 54 to 58 miles per gallon.
After about 2,000 miles I’ve used just 15 gallons of gas. Depending on my final tax status, I’ll have a highly energy-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicle for about $20,000. This definitely meets my energy and frugality goals. I credit the Inflation Reduction Act as key in focusing my attention on a vehicle that allowed me to fulfill my goals.
– Don Wichert
Emeritus Board Member and Founder of RENEW Wisconsin
Energy Concepts LLC (Energy Concepts) has requested a waiver of individual electric metering requirements for the Prairie Heights Residences, a multifamily residence under development in Eau Claire. The petition presented to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) seeks this waiver to simplify the integration of high-performance building insulation, electrically powered Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) heat pump technology, and onsite solar into this new apartment building.
The development team—Gerrard Companies (developer), West CAP (property operator/manager) and Energy Concepts (energy system designer)—are collaborating to achieve significant reductions in overall building energy usage, minimizing tenant exposure to high energy costs. Meter consolidation is crucial to optimize the cost-effectiveness of these energy measures and pass these savings to tenants in the form of avoided utility payments.
The development team is specifically seeking to waive Wis. Admin. Code 113.0803 for the project. The Wis. Admin. Code 113.0803 states that any residential building constructed after March 1, 1980 with multiple units will be required to have a separate electric meter for each unit. This extends to any residential building with multiple units that undergoes renovations after March 1, 1980.
Allowing meter consolidation for this project is key for the implementation of the two solar arrays planned for the new apartment building. The grid-tied solar photovoltaic arrays will produce 350kW, and though it will be tied directly to the main electrical grid it’s likely only a small percent of the system’s output will be exported onto the grid, due to the relatively constant energy requirements of a building-wide VRF heat pump system
Electrically powered VRF heat pump technology is designed to provide both heating and cooling using the same equipment. Heat pumps also transfer heat rather than converting it from a fuel source, which allows properly installed systems to deliver as much as three times more heat energy to a home than the electrical energy it consumes. When paired with renewable energy, as in this case, heat pumps are a particularly effective solution for reaching decarbonizing goals.
The technologies planned for the affordable housing development are relatively new and were unavailable to developers when the individual electric metering requirements were created under Wis. Admin. Code 133.0803. These requirements are an economic hurdle for projects like the Prairie Heights Residences and removing this hurdle allows the developer to simplify the installation of their solar arrays. Rather than connecting an array, or in this case arrays, to 60 individual units the waiver will allow for the arrays to be connected to a single meter.
The array is expected to supply 20% of the electricity estimated to be consumed by residences in both their individual units and shared spaces. Pairing the array with the high-performance insulation and an electric heat pump, which will heat and cool the building, it is expected that tenants will experience an exceptionally efficient heating and cooling system that further insulates them from high energy bills commonly experienced with traditional heating and cooling systems.
The development team’s use of tax credits and incentives, combined with these energy-saving, CO2-reducing measures to build new affordable housing is particularly innovative. It will significantly reduce the energy burden on the low to moderate income residents the project is for. West CAP plans to reserve 85% of its 60 units for tenants at or below 60% of the median county income, with 12 units specifically reserved for homeless or disabled veterans.
RENEW Wisconsin believes the approach taken by the Prairie Heights project team to incorporate energy savings and CO2 emissions reductions in new multifamily housing is exemplary and should serve as a model for other development groups. We have submitted comments in support of the waiver and are watching the case closely. The comment period remains open to the public through July 25, 2023.