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For business, saving energy has never been smarter

Dave Opsahl with the Willmar Municipal Utilities shows a selection of energy-efficient light bulbs during a demonstration in September 2005. Energy Smart of Minnesota is helping connect businesses with utilities offering assistance and rebates to save energy and cut costs. (Tribune file photo)
Business Willmar,Minnesota 56201
West Central Tribune
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For business, saving energy has never been smarter
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Saving energy is smart business.

And it has never been easier, thanks to a new law taking effect his year.

It requires utilities across the state to save the energy equivalent of roughly 1.5 percent of their retail sales each year. To meet that mandate, utilities are offering rebates and incentives through Conservation Improvement Programs to help customers cut their energy usage.

Mark Blaiser makes it all the easier for businesses to take advantage of this opportunity in his role as director of Energy Smart. An affiliate of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Energy Smart has recently been awarded funding from Xcel to help businesses conserve energy and take advantage of the incentives to do so.

He points to Energy Smart success stories like Bernick's Beverage and Vending of St. Cloud. It replaced 500 metal halide bulbs in its Waite Park warehouse with energy-efficient T-8s and made other improvements. The company is projecting an annual savings of $80,000.

Many of the most effective energy saving strategies are just that easy, according to Blaiser. He said changing lighting, encouraging behavior changes such as shutting off computers at day's end, and adding energy controls on vending machines are among the energy saving strategies that are easy for businesses to adopt.

Energy Smart does not conduct energy audits, but it will make on-site visits to offer ideas. It will also send -- at no cost -- representatives from utilities or other companies who can offer cost-effective ideas that work for your business.

Energy Smart offered just the prodding needed to launch Lake Region Bank of Willmar, Sunburg and New London on its own energy savings improvement. Lake Region will be changing the lighting at its Willmar and New London locations thanks to its contacts with Energy Smart, according to Clark Vollan, of Lake Region Bank.

Vollan said the contact with Energy Smart led to a visit by a representative from a lighting company and the utilities serving the New London and Willmar locations. They offered a plan to greatly reduce the kilowatts needed and offer equal, if not improved, lighting.

They also helped pencil out the economics of the project, detail the rebates available, and show a relatively fast payback for the initial investment.

Energy Smart has been in existence for two years, but the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has been working on energy conservation with businesses through its Waste Wise program since 1994. It has lots of experience at pointing out where businesses can get the most bang for their buck, according to Blaiser.

It also has lots of experience with helping companies find the rebates that work best for them. It will even assist with the paperwork, he said.

All of the utilities in the state, including municipal utilities such as Willmar's, offer Conservation Improvement Program rebates and incentives to help conserve energy. Thanks to the rebates, replacing lights with modern, energy-efficient systems can have a payback as quick as one to two years, he said.

Although the opportunities to save money and energy have never been greater, Blaiser said his job right now can be difficult. "It's a tricky time because of the recession,'' he said.

Businesses are operating on tight budgets. And, everyone is handling large work loads, making it difficult to find those willing to take on extra duties, he explained.

Those very problems are also where Energy Smart can matter most. Blaiser said the role of Energy Smart is to make it as easy as possible for companies to improve their bottom line and help utilities meet the energy conservation goals. "We're all going to have to pitch in,'' he said.

To learn more about Energy Smart, visit its Web site:

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335