Contractors who deal with electricity in homes and businesses and an energy efficiency nonprofit touted the state’s longstanding Conservation Improvement Program for the region’s legislators.
They said it will continue to need tweaks, but they wanted to ensure continued support among those lawmakers.
“This is the most cost-effective energy resource in the state,” said Jamie Fitzke, manager in program and policy for the Center for Energy and Environment. “It costs significantly less to purchase energy efficiency through incentives” than renewable energy.
It’s about 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour to buy energy efficiency; renewables cost about 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour and coal costs about 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, said Joe Sullivan, manager of strategic relations for the center. The center, a nonprofit, runs two of Xcel Energy’s large conservation improvement programs, a commercial lighting program for businesses and the residential energy squad, which conducts home energy audits that include everything from insulation to adjustable thermostats. The center also has partnerships with other utilities on specific research or projects. But each utility, including all but the smallest co-ops and municipalities, must have a conservation improvement program.
“Our utilities do a great job with conservation programs,” Sullivan said.
The utilities typically provide some kind of rebate to encourage businesses or homeowners to make energy efficiency improvements. Some facilitators, like the center, may offer financing to close the gap and allow property owners to pay the cost back as a result of savings. To support the conservation improvement programs, utilities charge ratepayers in their territories a fee to support the programs.
The lawmakers who attended a show and tell at Mankato Brewery on Tuesday afternoon delved deep with questions on the program and the future of renewables and energy efficiency.
Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, asked, “Is this program just going to grow and grow? Or is there a cap?”
Sullivan said, “Utilities do as much as is cost-effective.”
Rebates frequently are related to the savings for the utility, encouraging those that will save more electricity, Fitzke said.
“My experience is that different utilities have varying resources for this,” Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, said.
Carrie Wittenberg, lighting designer with Werner Electric, confirmed that.
“It varies based on economies of scale,” she said.
Munson said, “All the customers are paying for it. The rest of the ratepayers pay for it.”
Sullivan said, “It’s the same as if you were building a power plant or transmission lines.”
Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, asked what changes the center and others may seek in the next legislative session.
Fitzke said the Department of Commerce is analyzing data on the market potential for energy efficiency and will have a report in the fall on those prospects.
“We want to use that to make intelligent, data-driven decisions for policy,” she said. “There will be some tweaks.”
Sullivan said the program started in the ‘80s with a focus on weatherstripping and insulation, but has expanded to involve thermostats, lighting and air conditioning, for example. He expects the next evolution to allow for cold climate air source heat pumps and a push to electrify.
Mankato Brewery’s owner Tim Tupi, who also owns Liv Aveda Salon in Mankato, has made improvements in both locations in waves. He will save more than $90,000 in payments to Xcel Energy over 17-20 years. In Senate Districts 19, 20 and 23, the center has worked on lighting projects that generated $1.8 million in rebates for property owners and $1.2 million in annual electricity cost savings. Statewide, 14 percent of the state’s electricity demand is met through efficiency programs.
Technology continues to improve and offer better lighting options and also other methods of making buildings more energy efficient.
“Lighting controls are the next frontier,” Wittenberg said. “You can check business occupancy from the lighting and use remote access to control the lights.”