Opportunities to Increase Small Business Engagement on Energy

December 11, 2018 in Communities, Efficiency Authors: Jordana Palmer, Matt Kazinka, Trevor Drake

In 2014, we wrote about “A New Approach to Small Business Energy Efficiency,” in which we described the unique barriers—time, knowledge, and trust—that small businesses face in identifying and enacting energy efficiency improvements. We proposed that the best solution may not be a technological one, but a social one—partnering with individuals who have existing relationships with small businesses in their community and training them as “energy coaches” who can provide the commitment, information, and trust that resource-limited business owners require. Continue reading »

Getting a Good Deal: Solar Garden Subscriptions for Local Governments

November 15, 2017 in Communities Author: Trevor Drake

Solar Garden

Since its launch in 2014, Xcel Energy’s solar garden program in Minnesota has driven a growing conversation about solar energy options and opportunities, especially among local government staff and elected officials. Local governments are sought after as solar garden subscribers for their large and often stable electric loads, excellent credit scores, and interest in opportunities to reduce energy costs and meet public goals on clean energy. Continue reading »

How a New Project Seeks to Reduce Barriers to Solar in Greater Minnesota

July 21, 2017 in Communities Authors: Sophia Krohn, Trevor Drake

Almost every time we give a community presentation on solar, somebody asks about how the costs of the technology are changing and whether it’s best to wait to “go solar.” It’s a smart question, and indeed the costs of the physical components of solar projects are being driven down by market forces (though arguably not quick enough to warrant waiting). The trouble with this question is that it misses the target in seeing what’s most important, which is not just the cost of hardware but the final cost of an installed system. Continue reading »

e21 Forum Convenes Stakeholders to Explore Consumer-Centric Rates and Performance-Based Compensation

July 12, 2017 in Electricity Authors: Sophia Krohn, Trevor Drake

Industry and Projects

On Friday July 14th, over 50 people convened in St. Paul to learn about and discuss innovations towards a more customer-centric regulatory framework and utility business model for the 21stcentury. The event was the second of several e21 Forums in 2017, which are convened by the Great Plains Institute and Center for Energy and Environment and designed to provide an opportunity for interested parties in Minnesota to hear about and discuss important issues facing the electric sector. Below is a recap of the event along with links to slides and resources. Continue reading »

Report Documents First-Ever Collaborative Procurement of Solar Garden Subscriptions by Group of Local Governments

March 13, 2017 in Communities Author: Trevor Drake

Community solar programs are gaining increasing interest from electric utility customers across the nation. Unlike individual solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, community shared solar systems, also known as Solar Gardens, create an opportunity for multiple individuals and organizations to receive the benefit of a larger solar installation without requiring it to be located on-site. For local government entities, these benefits include supporting clean energy and its positive local economic impacts, saving on energy bills for public facilities, and hedging against the future price volatility of electricity. 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.

Trevor and Abby Chat Solar Gardens

March 16, 2016 in Communities, Electricity Authors: Abby Finis, Trevor Drake

Solar Garden

In 2013, the State of Minnesota enacted 216B.1641 Community Solar Garden, which established the Xcel Energy Community Solar Garden Program. This program brought a lot of excitement to the Minnesota solar industry, leading to an influx of solar developers and long queue of solar garden applications. Because the program is new and has generated a lot of interest, there have been a few bumps along the way. Continue reading »