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.