Wise business investments for energy efficiency

Recently we sat down at 612Brew in northeast Minneapolis with Minnesota State Senator Kari Dziedzic to share our story about the positive economic impact of energy conservation in our businesses. 

In 2007, Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act established energy-saving goals through the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) for electric and gas utilities, overseen by the Department of Commerce. Driven by utility company rebates and incentives that pay for themselves, CIP encourages utilities to promote energy efficiency technologies, help homes and businesses cut energy costs, and reduce harmful emissions while conserving resources.

Each CIP strategy aims to strengthen our state’s economy and energy security. But during Minnesota’s last legislative session, an ill-informed bill was introduced to eliminate the CIP framework while weakening other clean energy policies. Had it succeeded, the repeal would have dismantled the most successful energy policy in our state history. Thanks in large part to strong opposition by Minnesotans who recognize CIP’s benefits, the bill’s clean energy roll-backs were not ultimately enacted — but the threat remains.

We’re spreading the word about CIP because we’ve seen its value firsthand, through the One-Stop Efficiency Shop — one of Minnesota’s many CIP-related programs. “One-Stop” is a full-service lighting program that partners with energy contractors like Landmark Electric to help small businesses throughout Xcel Energy’s Minnesota service territory with lighting needs assessments, efficiency recommendations, financing, and guidance toward making improvements.

Thanks to CIP rebates and incentives through the One-Stop program since 2001, Senate District 60 alone has invested about $6.7 million in energy efficiency projects. The district’s One-Stop business clients have received over $2.3 million in one-time rebates plus almost $1.6 million in annual cost savings. Local energy contractors like Landmark Electric have earned over 3,508 related workdays. And, while saving energy we didn’t need to generate, we also cut 12,216 megatons of carbon annually — akin to pulling 2,036 cars off our roads.

Within the district, 612Brew has its own good story to tell. When the brewhouse and taproom upgraded to energy-efficient lighting, the improvements were implemented by locally owned and operated Landmark Electric and subsidized through CIP-related rebates and incentives. Because of efficiencies we put in place, 612Brew now saves over $1,000 in energy spending every year. And boosted by rebates from Xcel Energy amounting to nearly $2,300, energy savings quickly covered the cost of upgrades.

Businesses work hard to invest wisely because every penny has to count. And when you invest in saving energy, you earn much more than a one-time return on your investment. Through the hard work and expertise of Minnesota’s energy contractors, businesses save tens of thousands of dollars every year after they improve their energy use — money they can reinvest in staffing, customer engagement, and services, much smarter channels for limited resources.

The 2015 legislative session made clear that Minnesotans either need to protect CIP or risk losing it. With other pressing issues demanding legislators’ attention, we can’t afford for them to waste time debating about an outstanding program with decades of clear successes. The simple reality about energy efficiency:

  • It’s a major electric system resource, providing about 14 percent of the state’s energy system resources.
  • It’s cost-effective, with minimal expense to implement and quick paybacks, saving Minnesota households more than $6 billion dollars since 1995.
  • It employs nearly 10,000 Minnesotans at more than 445 businesses like Landmark Electric throughout the state.
  • It cuts carbon while preserving productivity. Through energy efficiency measures implemented because of CIP, the state’s utility customers will avoid almost 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The math isn’t hard. As the state’s energy needs grow, we can either buy more (8 cents per kilowatt-hour), or save more (1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour). Plus the latest data indicate CIP generates about four dollars in benefits for every dollar invested. CIP opens doors to new technologies in lighting, appliances, heating, ventilation, insulation, architecture, and other strategies to help businesses save energy and money. And while strengthening our economy, it also serves as a powerful mechanism to improve our public health and environment.

Energy waste is like a leaky pipe — fix more leaks, stop more waste. District 60’s successes through the One-Stop program represent one local chapter in a statewide story of CIP in action. Savings and wages earned by energy contractors like the team at Landmark Electric offer local proof of CIP’s successes. And the pathways to achieve such successes would disappear without the rebates and incentives enabled through CIP.

So we offer our personal experiences to help legislators better understand how CIP benefits local energy consumers and contractors, as well as electric utilities and our economy. To keep CIP safe, businesses statewide would do well to join us and inform your own district’s policymakers about the valuable role the Conservation Improvement Program plays in your own lives and livelihoods.

Adit Kalra is president and co-founder of 612Brew. Jayson Oswald is president of Landmark Electric.