Minnesota’s Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) exists to “[help] Minnesota households and businesses use electricity and natural gas more efficiently — conserving energy, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and lessening the need for new utility infrastructure.” A significant benefit of the work to achieve those goals is saving money for Minnesota residents, businesses, and utilities. CIP has been Minnesota’s most successful energy policy over the last three decades, yielding at least four dollars in energy savings for every dollar invested (Minnesota Department of Commerce). Pursuing efficiency is also an investment in the positive economic impact and 47,000-plus jobs that CIP supports.
Those savings were (and are) more important than ever as we react to the challenges of the past year. CEE delivers programs supported by CIP on behalf of several energy utilities — and those programs were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in much the same way as all sectors of the state, country, and world. The staff who work on these programs overcame many barriers this year to work toward our always-ambitious goals. Here are a few 2020 highlights:
One-Stop Efficiency Shop
This program offers a full-service rebate program for small businesses in Xcel Energy’s Minnesota service territory, with a focus on lighting and rooftop unit improvements. One-Stop provides practical solutions to energy efficiency challenges by addressing common barriers such as limited financial resources, lack of access to high-quality contractors, and time constraints. In 2020, One-Stop completed 1,779 projects, leading to the conservation of 12.5 megawatts and 50 gigawatt hours of energy, as well as $7.7 million in disbursed rebates and $4.7 million in annual savings for local businesses.
Home Energy Squad
CEE delivers this service for Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy, which pairs on-the-spot installations of energy-saving products with an energy assessment for greater home comfort and savings. In each visit, energy experts install upgrades like LED bulbs, faucet aerators, and smart thermostats. CEE partners with 30 local cities and neighborhoods (and counting) to help cut the cost of visits for residents. In 2020, the program instituted a new virtual service to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Even though visits were fewer than past years due to the pandemic, Home Energy Squad still completed over 6,000 visits and helped save energy amounting to about 3.2 gigawatt hours and 15,000 decatherms. Additionally, more than 800 residents used CEE’s free Energy Advisor service to complete energy efficiency projects and earn rebates.
Multifamily Energy Savings Program
Provided by Minnesota Energy Resources, this program is designed to help multifamily building owners save energy through rebate incentives and direct installation of energy-saving products like high-efficiency showerheads and faucet aerators. Since its inception, the program has served more than 9,400 multifamily units, resulting in an average savings of $25 per unit, per year on natural gas bills alone. Since 2018, the program has also developed partnerships with Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power, Freeborn Mower, Dakota Electric, and Rochester Public Utilities to provide joint natural gas and electric services to multifamily buildings. Thanks to those partnerships, electric direct-install measures were installed in more than 1,700 units, saving an additional $25 per unit, per year.
Regional Residential Energy Programs
These programs help connect homeowners with energy-saving resources and provide information about efficiency methods through partnerships with regional utilities such as Austin Public Utilities, Dakota Electric Association, Minnesota Energy Resources, Otter Tail Power, Owatonna Public Utilities, and Rochester Public Utilities. Among its accomplishments, and in the spirit of 2020, the program held the first ever online workshops. There were two in-person Neighborhood Energy Challenge workshops during the first quarter and three online workshops for Rochester residents. Another exciting highlight is that we hosted the first-ever joint Dakota Electric and Minnesota Energy Resources online workshop in October, drawing more than two dozen participants from the southeast metro. All told, more than 130 households participated.
Authorized Insulation Contractor Program
This program offers insulation and air sealing services in the region served by Minnesota Energy Resources. Participating contractors benefit from easy access to competitive utility-paid rebates. In 2020, the program completed 17 on-site quality assurance inspections. The program also performed six quality assurance inspections in the form of remote phone interviews, added two new Authorized Insulation Contractor companies, and enhanced its team with three new Authorized Insulation Contractor crew leaders.
Commercial Refrigeration Efficiency
This Xcel Energy program focuses on small businesses with significant refrigeration loads, like grocery, convenience, and liquor stores. This full-service program offers technical assistance and rebates to small business owners who are interested in upgrading existing refrigeration equipment to more efficient options. In 2020, the program disbursed $197,000 in rebates and helped 199 businesses upgrade their equipment for a total first-year savings of over 2,400,000 kilowatt-hours. In 2021, this program will be combined with Xcel Energy's broader HVAC+R program.
In a challenging year, CEE’s CIP programs still managed to find energy and cost savings — which are important for the state’s utilities, business owners, and homeowners as we work toward a full recovery from the economic effects of the pandemic. Beyond the CIP programs implemented by CEE, there are many others across the state which also found success in 2020.
Successful energy conservation requires thoughtful policies, excellent customer service, and high-quality work by a well-trained workforce. We are proud to be part of the vast CIP network that delivers programs tailored to Minnesota’s many and diverse communities. CIP drives our mission to strengthen the economy while improving the environment.