FAIRMONT - The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce recently launched a program geared to help small- to mid-sized companies research ways to improve energy efficiency.
"Our program is here to help make the connections and help businesses understand what the possibilities are, and to give them a little nudge in energy efficient practices," said Jill Curran, manager of the Energy Smart program.
When a business calls her, she finds out who its utility provider is and what energy programs are available. She asks about lighting upgrades and other ways the business might be able to save money in the long run through energy efficiency. And she suggests an energy assessment, a service some utilities provide for free.
"I'm more than willing to make phone calls and do research and put them in contact with folks that can do the assessments," Curran said.
Customers of Fairmont Public Utilities who want an energy audit have access to two assessors through Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency - a non-profit wholesale electric power supplier to 18 cities, including Fairmont. The inspectors do free assessments for 15 of SMMPA's member cities, so businesses may have to wait until one is available. Last month, energy audits were completed for five local businesses. Their energy usage was examined and ways to improve efficiency were recommended.
"It's up to the business to follow through," said Tom Koeritz, Fairmont's assistant finance officer.
Since Fairmont Public Utilities is a member of SMMPA, electric customers have a wide selection of rebates available to them when they are ready to make the switch to energy efficient practices that often save consumers money in the long-run.
For example, currently the big push with business and residential customers is rebates on LED holiday lights, which can use 95 percent less electricity than regular lights. Coupons are available through Fairmont Public Utilities to save $3 on a string or decoration with up to 99 lights; $6 for 100-199 lights; $9 for 200-299 lights; and $12 for 300 or more. To receive the rebate, customers should submit to Fairmont Public Utilities the coupon, original receipt and part of the box that shows the number of lights. Last year, City Hall kept a Christmas tree lit nonstop for an entire month. Using only LED lights, the cost for that month was $1.62.
"There's energy savings to be had if people want to invest a little money," Koeritz said. "... And the payback is pretty decent."
Koeritz has approved rebates for businesses of all sizes, from 3M and Weigh Tronix to small "mom & pop" operations, plus the school district, churches and City Hall.
"All they have to do is contact us," he said.
When he receives an application, Koeritz first does a pre-inspection. For example, if someone is updating their lighting, he checks first to see what they're using before the new equipment is installed. Once the update is complete, he inspects the new lighting and figures out the energy savings.
Many local customers already are taking advantage of rebates offered through Fairmont Public Utilities. Last year, customers received $120,731 in rebates through the Energy Star program.
For businesses, energy-efficient products with rebates include lighting and cooling equipment, motors, variable speed drives, food service equipment, vending machine miser and door miser, which are motion-controlled light sensors.
There's also a custom program for businesses that have made energy-efficient changes that don't fall under any of the other categories. For example, a Fairmont company installed a larger compressor that significantly reduced its energy load, so Fairmont Public Utilities created a rebate for that business.
All the data from SMMPA's rebate programs is reported to the state, which has set an energy savings goal for Minnesota utilities. Starting in 2010, the goal is to save energy equal to 1.5 percent of a utility's annual retail energy sales.
Rebate forms are available to Fairmont Public Utilities electric customers by contacting (507) 238-9461, and visit www.saveenergyinfairmont.com for information on other available programs.
For businesses that aren't Fairmont customers or just to gather more information on energy savings, contact Curran at Energy Smart by calling (651) 292-4653, e-mail her at email@example.com, or visit the Web site www.mnenergysmart.com.