Energy Efficiency Assistance and Rebates for Central Corridor Business and Rental Property Owners

By: Kristen Funk, The Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) and
      Mary Morse, The Neighborhood Energy Connection (NEC)
June 20, 2012

Two non-profit organizations working to promote energy conservation and efficiency in Minnesota have launched programs targeted specifically at Central Corridor small business owners and rental property owners.  The Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) and The Neighborhood Energy Connection (NEC) have each developed programs that recognize the unique challenges of promoting energy efficiency within these groups.  By providing tailored energy audits followed by incentives such as rebates or low-cost financing, these non-profits are offering creative solutions to achieve greater energy efficiency in the Central Corridor. 

The Center for Energy and Environment (CEE): One-Stop Efficiency ShopSM

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a typical small business spends $6,000 to $25,000 per year on energy.  Almost a quarter of that amount is used to pay for lighting.  In today’s economic climate, small business owners are frequently looking for simple ways to reduce their operating costs.  A lighting upgrade to more efficient technology is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways for business owners to reduce expenses while simultaneously improving lighting quality in their space.

Small business owners face several barriers when it comes to investing in energy-efficiency projects, including:  limited financial resources and time, limited knowledge of lighting products and lack of access to quality contractors.  In response to these barriers, Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) designed and currently administers the One-Stop Efficiency ShopSM.  The One-Stop Efficiency Shop is a full-service rebate program available to small businesses in Xcel Energy’s Minnesota service territory with an electric demand of 400 kW or less.  The program is designed to save business owners energy and money through the installation of energy efficient lighting.  The program offers:

  • A free, no-obligation lighting audit with cost savings recommendations
  • Rebates up to 75% of installed costs
  • Convenient and attractive financing
  • Start-to-finish oversight of the lighting upgrade

CEE also recently began offering limited time, low-interest financing to eligible businesses and projects in the Central Corridor.  Depending on their qualifications, business owners can finance their lighting projects for as low as 0%.  There is no application fee and the loan can be paid off early without penalty.

The inefficient lighting technologies typically retrofitted by the program are T12 fluorescents, metal halides and incandescents.  “We are strongly encouraging businesses to think about upgrading their lighting as soon as they can,” says One-Stop program manager Kristen Funk.  “Starting in July of 2012, the Federal government is prohibiting the manufacture of T12 lamps, which is a technology common to many businesses.  Because of this legislation rebates for T12s will no longer be available to Xcel Energy customers after the end of 2012.  Business owners will have to retrofit their T12s eventually, so it makes sense for them to take advantage of the rebates while they’re still available.”

To date the One-Stop Efficiency Shop has distributed $1.1 million in rebates to 186 businesses located in the Central Corridor.  Participating business owners are saving $778,000 annually with an average payback of 2.7 years.  If you are interested in finding out if you are eligible for a free, no-obligation lighting audit, please contact Kristen Funk at (612) 335-3487 or kfunk@mncee.org.  You may also visit www.mncee.org to find out more about CEE and the One-Stop Efficiency Shop.

The Neighborhood Energy Connection (NEC): Energy Wise Rental Rebates

This pilot program is designed to give owners of small residential rental buildings (1 – 4 units) in Saint Paul’s Central Corridor area a significant carrot to invest in energy conservation improvements. The NEC has found that landlords are sometimes reluctant to make energy-related expenditures on their properties, either because cash is tight, because their tenants pay the utility bills and would reap the benefits of efficiency, or because they intend to sell their properties before the investments would begin paying off. 

The Energy Wise Rental Rebate program was developed with landlord input during a live focus group, via telephone conversations, and in an online survey. The focus group tested a variety of potential incentives with participating landlords, from restaurant gift cards to ENERGY STAR® rated appliances to cash. Focus group observers noted that when the facilitator offered the option of expert energy guidance, access to reliable contractors, a quality-control inspection, and a substantial cash rebate, participants became noticeably enthusiastic.

There are three levels of participation in the program. All participants receive an energy audit, and their auditor provides detailed energy improvement specifications that are used to collect bids. Once the fact finding and specifications are complete, the action really starts. Landlords who install attic insulation are eligible for a $350 Energy Wise Rental rebate. Those who install several specified improvements, in line with Xcel Energy’s Home Performance program, will be awarded a $750 cash rebate. Landlords who go even further and make their buildings significantly efficient will receive an Energy Wise Rental Web Badge for use as they market their property online, as well as a sign to hang on their building. All of these rewards are further sweetened by Xcel Energy rebates, which can add up to more than a thousand dollars in additional rewards—on top of their Energy Wise rebates.

Property owners receive guidance from the NEC’s Home Energy Advisor and Residential Energy program staff. They choose their installers from a group of contractors who agree to resolve any deficiencies found in the mandatory post-installation inspection, which includes a blower door test and health/safety check.

The Energy Wise Rental Rebate pilot program was funded with a grant from the McKnight Foundation. Program details are found at www.TheNEC.org/energywise, or contact Danielle at the NEC: 651.221.4462 x 136.