Skip to main content

Innovative Solar Technology Powers Affordable Housing in River Falls, Wisconsin

Front view of a two-story multifamily development on a grassy lot. Three ground-mounted solar panel arrays and a bus stop are in front of the building.
Side view of a two-story multifamily development on a grassy lot.
A structure containing 12 solar panels arranged in a circle, resembling the petals on a flower.
A modern living room with hardwood flooring, a sofa, a dining table, and chairs.


Home > Case Studies > Innovative Solar Technology Powers Affordable Housing in River Falls, Wisconsin


Innovative Solar Technology Powers Affordable Housing in River Falls, Wisconsin


River Falls is a small city located in northwestern Wisconsin, 30 miles east of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. The city had a population of 16,609 and a median annual household income of $72,247 as of 2022. In 2022, the city of River Falls commissioned a housing needs study forecasting that by 2030, the city would need 954 additional housing units (excluding senior housing), including 336 rental units, to accommodate an expected population growth of 3.1 percent. Opened in May 2021, 1300 Residences addresses some of these needs with 50 affordable rental units powered largely with photovoltaic energy. Codeveloped by West CAP and Gerrard Development LLC, the development pairs affordable housing with green technology to reduce housing costs and atmospheric emissions.

Toward a Sustainable Development

The development of 1300 Residences began in 2017. West CAP, a community action organization, previously had partnered with Gerrard Development to incorporate sustainability features into housing developments in Wisconsin and Iowa. The developers sought to further their commitment to sustainable development with a project that would consume 80 percent less fossil fuel energy than a typical residential build. The development team was drawn to River Falls because of its need for affordable housing — particularly workforce housing — and its reputation as a local leader in sustainability practices; River Falls was the first city in Wisconsin to power all municipal buildings with renewable energy. In 2018, the development team identified a vacant site near downtown River Falls as a candidate for infill development. This site would become 1300 Residences, with construction starting in 2020. “[I]n a sense, all the stars lined up with this project and this community,” said Peter Kilde, executive director at West CAP.

The project was designed to incorporate renewable energy and other sustainability features to reduce carbon emissions and utility costs. Early designs relied on geothermal energy, but installing a geothermal system on the small lot would require vertical drilling, which was a cost-prohibitive measure using the technology available at the time. The final development instead relies on solar energy to meet residents’ needs. Energy Concepts of Hudson, Wisconsin, designed the photovoltaic array, which consists of 580 rooftop solar panels and 3 large “solar flowers” containing 12 panels each. This system produces 231,000 kWh of electricity, accounting for approximately 70 percent of the building’s total energy use. The building is fully electric and uses commercial air-source heat pumps to provide efficient heating and cooling, consuming 108 fewer tons of carbon dioxide per year than conventional natural gas/electric heating, ventilation, and cooling systems. The building also features energy-efficient insulated glass windows.

Together, these green features save an estimated 240 tons of carbon emissions and between $40,000 and $50,000 per year, cutting utility costs by an estimated 30 to 40 percent. Moreover, thanks to a waiver allowing the development to have a single energy meter, residents do not receive utility bills. Instead, utility charges are included in the rent, which currently ranges from $600 to $1,600 per month for new residents.

About the Building

The 1300 Residences development consists of 50 apartments, including 20 one-bedroom units, 19 two-bedroom units, and 11 three-bedroom units. The units are available to people earning between 30 percent and 80 percent of the area median income (AMI). Building amenities include a community room, lounges, and heated underground parking. The site is located within 2 miles of several parks, an elementary school, a grocery store, and the River Falls campus of the University of Wisconsin, and a future bus line will stop at the development. In addition, 20 percent of the units are fully accessible for people with disabilities. Ten of the development’s one-bedroom apartments are set aside for residents with special needs who earn 30 percent or less of AMI.


Developing 1300 Residences cost roughly $11.4 million. Prominent funding sources included $3.7 million in tax-exempt bond financing from Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), along with $3.7 million in 4 percent federal low-income housing tax credit equity facilitated by Cinnaire, $1.7 million in state tax credits, and $675,992 in tax increment financing from the city of River Falls. The development also received $750,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago through its Affordable Housing Program, $500,000 through the federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program, and $325,000 from a Capital Magnet Fund grant awarded to WHEDA. 1300 Residences also received $31,683 from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program.

Table 1: Financing for 1300 Residences

WHEDA first mortgage (tax-exempt bond financing) $3,742,000
4 percent low-income housing tax credit equity 3,742,582
State tax credits 1,686,192
Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago’s Affordable Housing Program 750,000
River Falls tax increment financing 675,992
HOME Investment Partnerships grant 500,000
WHEDA Capital Magnet Fund award 325,000
Public Service Commission of Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program 31,683
Total $11,453,449

Looking Ahead

1300 Residences received the 2022 Charles L. Edson Tax Credit Excellence Award in the Green and Healthy Housing category. The project also has received several local awards, including the 24th Annual Governor’s Excellence in Community Action Award. The Wisconsin Environmental Initiative granted it the highest-ever Green Built Certified score awarded to an affordable housing development in Wisconsin.

The development team behind 1300 Residences has continued to retrofit and develop properties throughout Wisconsin that use efficient onsite solar panels and geothermal power as sustainable energy sources. Recent projects include Dakota Meadows, a 38-unit development in New Richmond featuring rooftop solar panels, and Prairie Heights Residences in Eau Claire, a 60-unit affordable housing development that, when completed, will include photovoltaic solar panels, geothermal technology, and air-source heat pumps. Other sustainable housing projects are under development or planned in Menomonie, Ellsworth, and Hudson, Wisconsin.

This article was written by Sage Computing, Inc, under contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.