When Xcel Energy laid out its map on how to help customers boost their energy efficiency by 35 percent over the next three years, the utility already had a game plan in place.
One part of that plan is Energy Smart, a nonprofit program that helps businesses take advantage of rebates and other financial incentives for energy-efficiency improvements. The effort is receiving $945,000 over three years from Xcel Energy.
“We help Minnesota companies become more energy efficient,” said Mark Blaiser, executive director of Minnesota Waste Wise, a nonprofit affiliate of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce that oversees the program.
“Continued funding … will allow Energy Smart to assist a far greater number of businesses that need help navigating the web of energy-efficiency incentives, such as rebates, low-interest loans and grants, available to them. Energy Smart provides its assistance to Minnesota businesses at no charge, regardless of energy utility,” the agency said in a prepared release.
One business helped by Energy Smart last year was St. Cloud-based Bernick’s Beverages & Vending. Minnesota Chamber of Commerce member Jason Bernick asked for Energy Smart’s help in evaluating energy use at his company’s Waite Park warehouse. As a result, Bernick’s eventually replaced 500 lights with high-efficiency bulbs and expects to save $80,000 annually through energy savings and a lighting rebate from Xcel Energy, recouping its investment in one year, according to Energy Smart.
When the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 was signed into law, it set an annual energy savings goal beginning in 2010 equivalent to 1.5 percent of utilities’ average annual retail energy sales in Minnesota. Designed to bolster investments in renewable power, increase energy efficiency and decrease Minnesota’s carbon and other emissions, the act also requires each utility to invest a specified percentage of its annual revenues in Conservation Improvement Programs. The cost of the CIP programs is billed back to customers of these utilities.
The Energy Smart funding falls under Xcel Energy’s CIP program, according to Patti Nystuen, Xcel Energy spokesperson. “We think it’s a good investment. How they [Energy Smart] promote the program with their membership may resonate better than if they only hear the message from us.”
Energy Smart started as a pilot in 2008, funded for the first year by four investor-owned utilities: Xcel Energy, Ottertail Power, Interstate Power & Light and Minnesota Power. The new funding plan, recently approved by the Minnesota Office of Energy Security, took effect Jan. 1, enabling Energy Smart to continue its work for another three years. The agency said it will seek additional funding from the rest of the state’s energy utilities.
Energy Smart also hosts educational workshops on energy efficiency, works with economic development and business-networking groups across the state and recently launched a blog with energy-efficiency tips, resources and news and information on financing opportunities for businesses.