Improving Standby Rate Design Would Help Industries Increase Efficiency, Reduce Emissions, and Save Money

March 13, 2018 in Efficiency Authors: Anna Dirkswager, Jamie Scripps

What is Combined Heat and Power?

Combined heat and power (CHP) is a system that not only generates electricity, but also harnesses the thermal energy from power generation for heating and cooling applications (typically burning natural gas for electricity and capturing the exhaust for steam heat). By combining these two processes, some CHP systems can achieve thermal efficiencies of 60-80 percent, which is up to twice the efficiency of traditional power generation. Continue reading »

Analysis: Cost and Emission Benefits of Increased Demand Response in the MISO Region

January 31, 2018 in Efficiency, Electricity Authors: Matt Prorok, Steve Dahlke

Energy Meter

A recently published working paper by the Great Plains Institute (GPI), titled “Consumer Savings, Price, and Emissions Impacts of Increasing Demand Response in the Midcontinent Electricity Market,” explores the effects of increasing the use of demand response (DR) assets in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s (MISO) wholesale energy market. Continue reading »

Workshop Focuses on Energy Policy Trends in America’s Heartland

December 22, 2017 in Efficiency Authors: Doug Scott, Jill Rook


Important issues in the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) were the focus of “Powering the Plains and Beyond: Energy Policy in America’s Heartland,” a workshop held in Austin, TX on December 11, 2017. Organized by the Great Plains Institute, this workshop gathered panels of experts to examine energy development and trends within the fourteen states in the SPP footprint and the potential expansion of SPP in the future. Continue reading »

Analysis: Electric Vehicles Provide Even Greater GHG Reductions in 2017 and Beyond for the Upper Midwest

May 15, 2017 in Efficiency, Transportation & Fuels Author: Dane McFarlane

EV Vehicle Graphic

GPI recently updated our previous analysis to explore the emission reductions achieved by driving an electric vehicle (EV) in specific regions in the Midwest. The updated analysis affirms and strengthens our finding that driving EVs, in comparison to gasoline vehicles, can provide significant greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reductions, with increasing reductions expected in coming years for both Minnesota (the focus of our initial analysis) and the Upper Midwest.

Continue reading »

Hutchinson Community Takes EnergyStar Challenge

August 3, 2016 in Efficiency Author: Maddie Norgaard

On April 21st, dozens of local leaders representing churches, businesses, and nonprofits throughout the City of Hutchinson gathered together at Faith Lutheran Church on Main Street to learn about energy efficiency and kick-off the ENERGY STAR® Challenge.

The ENERGY STAR® Challenge is a statewide effort led by a partnership between the Great Plains Institute, the Minnesota Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, and Energy Smart – a program of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. The goal of the program is to increase the number of ENERGY STAR® certified buildings in Minnesota, and to provide support for local energy efficiency efforts.

Each building that signs up for the ENERGY STAR® Challenge receives a free energy audit and energy conservation advice from an energy efficiency specialist with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. The Challenge also offers free energy benchmarking—a tool to track building energy consumption over time and identify areas for improvement. If a building lands in the top 25thpercentile, building owners can seek ENERGY STAR® Certification with the costs of certification completely covered by the program. In short, this means that for no cost, building owners can receive free energy efficiency assistance to improve a building or business’ bottom line, the benefits of which will be realized for years to come.

Buildings that are ENERGY STAR® certified use an average of 35% less energy than typical buildings. Studies have shown that buildings that are benchmarked tend to save around 7% in energy use simply because someone is monitoring energy consumption. In 2007, the Minnesota State Legislature recognized the value of energy efficiency and set a goal to achieve 1,000 ENERGY STAR® certified buildings by 2010. Six years have passed since the end date of that goal and the state has approximately 650 buildings certified. The ENERGY STAR® Challenge is an effort to increase that number through direct outreach and technical assistance.

Hutchinson was selected as a Community Partner in the ENERGY STAR® Challenge because of its thriving local business community and sustained commitment to environmental issues. Known as “Minnesota’s Hometown,” Hutchinson is a community where residents and visitors alike love to shop, do business, attend religious service, and just spend time. As a community partner, the City is investing in keeping Hutchinson that way by offering assistance to the buildings that help make Hutchinson beautiful. Not only can businesses improve their bottom line by pursuing energy efficiency, they can also improve the environment. Hutchinson is a beautiful city because it’s a place where a thriving business and faith community meets a picturesque natural environment and landscape. The ENERGY STAR® Challenge strengthens both of these elements by providing environmental assistance that is just as smart financially.

Businesses and nonprofits all over Hutchinson are already recognizing the benefits of the program and signing up for the Challenge. Faith groups have perhaps been the most enthusiastic to participate in the Challenge and sign-up. When a faith community communes around a sanctuary, it is only natural to care deeply about that building’s operations. In fact, the kickoff event was held at Faith Lutheran Church because of the efficiency efforts the congregation has already taken. As part of a large facility upgrade in 2010, a geothermal heating and cooling system was installed to offset HVAC load and costs. Because of this, the building runs efficiently and saves money each year. A number of local businesses and other nonprofits have signed-up as well. Will your building be next? Sign-up now at!

Woodbury Business Leaders Join ENERGY STAR for Kick-Off

April 20, 2016 in Efficiency Author: Abby Finis

Nearly 20 leaders from the Woodbury business community attended ENERGY STAR® Community Partner Challenge Kick-Off event held at City Hall in early April.  The group included a mix of business representatives, including retail, multi-family housing, office spaces, realtor groups and more. The event demonstrated growing interest among building owners in pursuing energy efficiency goals.  Continue reading »

Event Celebrates Energy Efficiency, Equity for Small Businesses

April 20, 2016 in Efficiency Author: Trevor Drake

People Graphic

On a sunny spring afternoon in South Minneapolis in late March, just as school was getting out and cars zoomed past on 35W overhead, a celebration of local energy innovation was on display at Taqueria La Hacienda on East Lake Street.

The event, hosted by the Lake Street Council, highlighted the work of the Council and its partners over the past 18 months to pilot “Energy Coaching”—an effort to help under-served and minority-owned small businesses take advantage of rebates and grants that can make energy efficiency improvements palatable, even for businesses with low profit margins.

The program, which I’ve described in more detail here, attempted to build on the small-business energy efficiency programs that are already available in Xcel Energy territory by deploying so-called “Energy Coaches”—individuals with a local presence that can facilitate connections between hard-to-reach business owners and existing utility-funded energy efficiency providers.

While the project’s final report is still in development, the celebration seems deserved. Overall, the Energy Coaching pilot project led to the completion of 84 energy assessments at small businesses on Lake Street. Of those, roughly half were owned by people of color and approximately 60% reported that they had never previously considered having an energy assessment. About 20 businesses have since taken action following their assessment, resulting in over $24,000 of combined savings annually, with individual businesses seeing savings of $1,550 on average.

Matt Kazinka, who served as an Energy Coach on behalf of Lake Street Council for the 84 businesses, spoke at the event about the importance of partnership. He noted how Wells Fargo, the project’s funder, “took a chance on this effort” by offering to fund the pilot project beginning in 2014. Not only that, but the bank’s local charitable giving branch, the Metropolitan Contributions Committee, brought to the event a signed check for an additional $50,000 to continue the work on Lake Street and beyond.

Carolyn Roby, Vice President at Wells Fargo Foundation MN, explained, “Small business development, small business success, is really important to our grantmaking.” She added that Wells Fargo has made significant strides to reduce energy usage in its own buildings.

Other key partners in the project included Energy Smart, a joint program of the MN Chamber of Commerce and MN Waste Wise Foundation that provided energy assessments, technical assistance, and mini-grants to participating businesses, and the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team (Metro CERT), a program of the Great Plains Institute and one of seven regions that comprise the statewide CERTs Partnership.

Also in attendance were representatives from Xcel Energy, whose rebate programs are crucial to reducing the costs of energy efficiency investments for small businesses, staff from the Center for Energy and Environment, which offers a parallel rebate program for lighting retrofits that several participating businesses took advantage of, and staff from the City of Minneapolis who are supporting the City’s Clean Energy Partnership—a unique joint effort between the City and its energy utilities that recently approved $30,000 in funding for outreach to under-served communities.

The achievements of the pilot project may seem small, and in comparison to savings reaped by larger businesses, they are. But the event was also celebrating something larger—a collaborative effort of multiple parties to serve utility customers that are considered difficult-to-reach.

On one hand, this event was just another group of folks enjoying tacos on a sunny afternoon on East Lake Street; on the other, it was a step towards a more equitable energy system—one in which even the hardest-to-reach customers can reap the benefits of energy efficiency.

For more details on specific projects completed through this initiative, check out our five case studies on Small Business Energy Coaching highlighting energy efficiency projects: 

Operated by the Great Plains Institute, Metro CERT is one of seven regions that comprise Minnesota’s Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) — a statewide partnership of four organizations working to connect individuals and their communities to the resources they need to identify and implement community-based clean energy projects.