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The Get Answers series offers useful tips from CERTs and our partners to help you get to the bottom of your energy efficiency and renewable energy questions.

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Energy Fit Homes
Joel Haskard
Mon, 03/07/2016 - 1:32pm
The new Energy Fit Homes is a certificate program that focuses on energy efficient upgrades that are cost-effective to the homeowner. Primarily a Twin Cities metro program (but with hopes of expansion), it is being provided by the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE), a Minneapolis nonprofit that has been helping Minnesota residents reduce their energy use for 35 years, and Neighborhood Energy Connection, a Saint Paul based nonprofit that has delivered high quality energy conservation services for 29 years. We spoke with Isaac Smith, the Energy Fit Homes Program Manager at Center for Energy and Environment, to learn more.   What do people like best about the program?   Isaac Smith: Homeowners enjoy the ease and low-cost of getting their home certified. Energy Fit Homes is a tangible way to show...
Joel Haskard
Tue, 02/09/2016 - 2:47pm
Here at CERTs we have been getting a few questions recently about stray voltage with regards to clean energy project, so we thought it would be useful to share some resources for people to learn more. While stray voltage can be a concern in certain situations, it’s unlikely to arise when work is done by professional contractors in partnership with electric utilities. Minnesota Stray Voltage Guide   A number of utilities in Minnesota came together to create the Minnesota Stray Voltage Guide, for which outlines the steps that farmers, electrical contractors, utilities and their advisors can take to discover and resolve stray voltage concerns on livestock farms. When farmers and utility companies work together, stray voltage concerns are more likely to be satisfactorily resolved. The Guide includes a list of...
Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman
Dan Thiede
Wed, 02/03/2016 - 12:05pm
The federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Production Tax Credit (PTC) were recently extended. Set to expire at the end of 2016, both will now continue to support clean energy in Minnesota for several years. We interviewed Mike Rothman, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, to learn more about the importance of these tax credits to Minnesota and what the extension means for the industries in our state. As Commissioner, Rothman oversees the Department’s broad jurisdiction of more than 20 regulated industries. Rothman’s top priorities include consumer protection, a clean energy future, and strong financial and energy sectors for Minnesota’s economy.   Can you describe the federal ITC and PTC and how they work?   Minnesota Department of Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman: The ITC, which became...
Save money and energy
MN Dept. of Commerce
Mon, 02/01/2016 - 1:33pm
Taxpayers take note: If you made energy efficiency improvements to your home in 2015, or if you are planning upgrades in 2016, you may be eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $500. The Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit originally expired at the end of 2014. But Congress recently renewed the credit, making it retroactive to January 1, 2015, and extending it to December 31, 2016. As a result, any qualified equipment installed in 2015 or 2016 is eligible for the credit. It applies to energy efficiency improvements to weatherize existing homes as well as the purchase of high-efficiency heating, cooling and water-heating equipment. The maximum tax credit for all improvements made from 2011-2016 is $500. A taxpayer who has already claimed the full tax credit cannot apply for an additional credit. A few examples of what may qualify for the tax credit: Insulation...
Ground source heat pump
Matthew Chatterton
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 6:10pm
When building a new home all sorts of little details need to be decided: What color the walls will be, what the cabinets will look like, etc. Often the mechanical part of the home is given less attention. Options that cost more are easy to push off for something familiar and cheaper. Ground-source heating and cooling (often called geothermal in Minnesota) often gets set aside with its initial higher cost tag. This might be a big mistake. If geothermal is examined a little more closely one realizes that it is extremely efficient and that there is a 30% Federal Tax Credit through the end of 2016, and often utility rebates that can be combined to significantly lower the initial costs. Jim Poppen—a home owner in Hampton, MN—was able to do just that. The original costs to install the geothermal...
Allina Health Elk River Clinic
Dan Thiede
Thu, 12/10/2015 - 7:18am
Allina Health’s Elk River Clinic offers personalized care services for physical and mental wellness, including OB/GYN, pediatrics, audiology, and surgery. The 30,000 sqft, three-story building recently received some tender loving care of it’s own with major upgrades for energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and occupant comfort. We interviewed Matt Steding, Building Automation Manager with Allina Health, to learn more about the measures taken at the Elk River Clinic and how they relate to efforts across Allina facilities. Read on to learn more! Dan Thiede: What motivated you to take on such extensive energy efficiency improvements? Matt Steding: The Elk River Clinic is a leased building which our Allina Health Facilities Support Services department had recently taken on a more active...
Steps to a cozy, energy-efficient home
MN Dept. of Commerce
Mon, 12/07/2015 - 2:27pm
We’re pretty sure that winter is here, even if it’s been a bit hesitant. As the temperature drops and we turn on our heat, there are many things we can do to keep the warm air in and our heating bills down. The following no-cost and low-cost tips will help Minnesotans save energy, reduce utility bills, and keep their homes safe this heating season.   Energy-saving tips:   Set your thermostat low; use a programmable thermostat. Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable when you are at home. Turn down the temperature about 10 degrees—manually or via programmable thermostat—at night when you go to bed and when you’re not at home. This can reduce your heating bill by 10 percent or more. Weather strip and caulk windows and doors to reduce air infiltration. Cover drafty windows with tightly sealed plastic to keep the warm air in. Open...
Video: Improving Your Home’s Performance
Alexis Troschinetz
Tue, 12/01/2015 - 4:56pm
A new 30-minute program on Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) captures the importance of having an advanced home energy assessment and the big dividends to be earned from prescribed home improvements. The program, called Improving Your Home’s Performance, takes the homeowner through the process of getting a home energy assessment, identifying problems, taking action, and measuring successes. The video is produced by TPT and the Minnesota Building Performance Association, with major funding provided by the Minnesota Department of Commerce (through U.S. Department of Energy funds) and additional support from six Minnesota utilities. Watch the video below! The Get Answers series on the Energy Stories Blog offers useful tips...
Hilton Garden Inn Minneapolis Maple Grove
Joel Haskard
Thu, 11/19/2015 - 1:37pm
Our old friend Carl Samuelson, Energy Strategy Facilitator with Michaels Energy, recently brought to our attention the great energy efficiency work by management and staff at the Hilton Garden Inn Minneapolis Maple Grove. To learn more, we interviewed Carl and the hotel’s General Manager, Mike Severson. Joel Haskard: How does Hilton Garden Inn Minneapolis Maple Grove compare to other hotels? Carl Samuelson: They are the most efficient out of 27 hotels in their management group here in the Midwest. They also scored an 80 on ENERGY STAR portfolio manager – so that means that we’re working with them to pursue ENERGY STAR certification. The impressive part is that their equipment is generally pretty standard...
Residents at Minneapolis community solar garden workshop
Lissa Pawlisch
Tue, 11/17/2015 - 10:03am
It was obvious walking into the packed Mayflower Church community room on Thursday, November 12th that residents in South Minneapolis are curious about community solar gardens—there were barely any chairs left in the large room.   Overview of presentations: Attendees learned all about community solar gardens from Lissa Pawlisch, Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) Director at the University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Developments Partnerships and Extension. Lissa covered all of the basics, and then delved into the specifics that residents need to know before subscribing to a project. Following Lissa’s presentation, Jamie Long with Linden Hills Power and Light talked about their community solar garden effort, how the planning process has been going, and...
Clean Energy Project Builder
Dan Thiede
Fri, 10/30/2015 - 1:08pm
Interest in solar energy and community solar gardens has exploded this year in Minnesota, and people are hungry for tools that can help them move forward. To meet the demand, the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) has relaunched the Clean Energy Project Builder website, which helps people find companies that can help them plan, implement, and manage clean energy projects (and now much more). The most exciting new feature on the website is a directory of the available Community Solar Gardens (CSGs) in the state. People can visit the website and choose their electric utility and county to see the gardens available to them for subscription. There are already 27 community solar gardens on the website, with more being added every week....
Calculating community solar garden financial impacts
Doug Tiffany - UMN
Thu, 10/29/2015 - 4:01pm
Since the passage of Minnesota’s 2013 solar legislation there has been a lot of interest in Community Solar Gardens (CSGs), especially in Xcel Energy’s service territory.   Who are the developers now working to build community solar gardens? In short, they are independent businesses organized to seek subscribers, raise funding, find acceptable sites, and organize the construction of solar photo-voltaic (PV) gardens up to 1 megawatt in capacity. These developers allow numerous power consumers to participate in solar energy without the hassles of installation, maintenance, and interconnection while capturing economies of scale in solar PV installations. CSGs Developers and Xcel Energy have a symbiotic business relationship. CSGs invest in variable renewable energy assets in response to consumer demand, while Xcel provides transmission and distribution services, backup power for...
Made in Minnesota Solar Incentive Program
Diana McKeown
Fri, 09/11/2015 - 3:12pm
The Made in Minnesota (MiM) Solar Program is a lottery-based incentive available to Minnesotans who install solar equipment that is made in Minnesota. Metro CERT Director Diana McKeown sat down with Kim Havey, Made in Minnesota Solar Program Coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Commerce, to learn more about the program and how it’s working in the state. Diana McKeown: How do you describe the Made in Minnesota Solar Program to people? Kim Havey: Made in Minnesota (MiM) is a program designed to grow jobs within the solar industry in Minnesota and support the installation of solar PV and thermal for residents and businesses. The program is ideally designed for residential and business rooftop solar installations but also can be used for ground mounted installations, which is ideal for farms. Legislation in...
Fritz Ebinger
Wed, 07/15/2015 - 10:01am
If your farm has ever had demand charges on your utility bill, you know that they can have a dramatic impact on cost. Fortunately, there are easy ways to avoid demand charges. This blog post walks you through a basic understanding of demand charges and then offers key tips to keep your bills lower.   What are demand charges?   Every utility in Minnesota classifies their customers into different electricity rate structures to pay for the electric grid and power generation. Typically, customers are classified into farm/residential, commercial, and industrial categories. Large commercial and industrial customers—including many farm facilities with equipment like grain dryers and irrigation pumps that rely on large volumes of electricity—are often placed on “demand accounts” and pay “demand charges” in their monthly bills. Customers on demand accounts see monthly energy...
Dan Hoffman with Farm Connections chat with Jack Hedin of Featherstone Farms about their solar installation
Fritz Ebinger
Tue, 07/14/2015 - 3:20pm
Fritz Ebinger at CERTs joined Dan Hoffman with KSMQ TV’s Farm Connections and Jack Hedin of Featherstone Fruits and Vegetables recently to learn more about the farm’s solar installation and offer some insights for other producers thinking about solar. Click play below to watch the video. Highlights from the video: Jack Hedin with Featherstone shared that their 38 kW solar PV installation is meeting their expectiations. They used American-made panels and they are producing even better than the installer projected. Their grid-tied system cost $250,000 and had a payback period under seven years using USDA...
Staying cool and saving energy this summer
Isaac Mielke
Tue, 07/14/2015 - 2:26pm
CERTs has compiled a handy list featuring ten ways that you can save money and energy this summer while staying cool. Use it like a checklist to mark off the things you’re already doing and find some new ways to help your energy bill chill out! [1] Turn off fans in empty rooms. It ends up fans cool people, not rooms! Learn more >> [2] Close window blinds and drapes when gone to block sunlight, but open windows at night to help cool and enjoy the extra daylight when home. Learn more >> [3] Unplug appliances and electronics when not in use or put them on power strips (and use them). Learn more...
Testing water heater during energy audit
Isaac Mielke
Mon, 06/29/2015 - 2:36pm
The Energy CENTs Coalition is collaborating with CenterPoint Energy this summer to offer the Low Income Rental Efficiency Program. Available for property owners renting to income-eligible tenants of 1-4 unit properties, this conservation opportunity will help to reduce energy costs for low-income tenants and their landlords. The program provides a free, no-obligation energy audit that will make recommendations about insulation levels and furnace, boiler, or water heater replacements. CenterPoint Energy will cover 50% of the costs of recommended upgrades. Wondering what upgrades might cost? Here’s an example depending on your building: Dwelling Audit/Inspection (free with program) Weatherization (insulation/air sealing) Furnace/Boiler Water Heater Single Family $350 $3,000...
Electric Vehicle Charging Available Here Sign
Joel Haskard
Mon, 06/15/2015 - 3:37pm
For public entities in Minnesota, a new statewide contract for electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE or charging stations) is now in place. Vendor product and contact information is available on the Minnesota Department of Administration website. The purpose of this statewide contract is to relieve the burden of each entity having to perform a request for bid and award contract process. EVSE can still be purchased outside this contract through your own competitive bid and procurement processes. We spoke with Fran Crotty, Electric Vehicle State Program Administrator at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, to learn a bit more. Joel Haskard: So if I am a city or county official interested in purchasing and installing an electric vehicle charging station for my community, how would this work? Fran Crotty: Cities and counties can log into...
Alexis Troschinetz
Sun, 06/14/2015 - 3:23pm
Nonprofits anywhere in Minnesota can take advantage of 0% loans from Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) before the end of June. If you have a plan for an improvement primarily intended to reduce energy consumption just sitting on the shelf waiting for money to come along, then don’t miss out on this opportunity! Here are some other requirements to keep in mind: Maximum Loan: $25,000 Maximum Term: 5-7 years Existing building occupied in whole or in part by nonprofit Simple payback of 2-10 years and payback must be less than useful life The loan rate will increase to 3.9% after June. Make your project happen today—call Jim and tell him CERTs sent ya! Jim Hasnik Senior Loan Officer, NMLS #1000308 jhasnik@mncee.org 612-335-5885 or 1-855-296-5626 (LOAN)...
Renewable Energy for Greater Minnesota
Fritz Ebinger
Mon, 06/08/2015 - 1:56pm
Farmers and rural small businesses are essential to the fabric of Minnesota—its economy, environment and communities. Helping them reduce costs with energy efficiency and take control of their energy expenses with renewable energy is the focus of a new program, Renewable Energy for Greater Minnesota, launching this week with support from USDA Rural Development. There’s demand: “We’re seeing increased demand for information about renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements, and are excited to offer free project assistance to Minnesotans,” shared Fritz Ebinger, Rural Energy Development Program Manager with the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) and University of Minnesota Extension. Project support: For more than ten years, CERTs has been connecting Minnesotans with the resources they need to plan and implement energy efficiency and...
Gary Hoffman is saving a lot of energy on his dairy farm with efficiency measures
Fritz Ebinger
Tue, 05/19/2015 - 11:38am
“I’ve always been for anything that would save,” says Gary Hoffman of Hoffman Farms, a 300+ head dairy with 800 acres just west of Chatfield, MN. Hoffman Farms recently saved energy and money on dairy technology through People’s Energy Cooperative energy savings rebates. Hoffman Farms first began with an on-farm energy audit in cooperation with Dairyland Power (wholesale power generator for People’s Energy Cooperative) to better understand the energy costs in their milk production and identify the most cost-effective technology upgrades. In the months following the energy audit, they met People’s Energy Cooperative Energy Advisor, Brandon Johnson, and started seeing rebate offerings for energy savings equipment in People’s Energy Cooperative’s Highline Highlights...
The Villella household utilizes several technologies, including geothermal, Solar PV and electric vehicles.
Stacey Pederson
Wed, 05/13/2015 - 3:05pm
Many Minnesotans are adding solar to their homes, and some folks are doing even more. Sam Villella and his family are a few of those over achievers: in addition to solar PV on their roof, they heat and cool their home with geothermal and get around in two electric vehicles. Stacey Pederson recently spoke with Sam to learn more about his experience and lessons learned when implementing energy efficiency measures and renewable energy projects. Stacey Pederson: Can you tell me about how you became interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy? Sam Villella: I never gave it much thought at all until I had children. They were certainly the spark that made me think about things. I am also conservative by nature and the dollars and cents of efficiency certainly made things attractive. Stacey: What all did you do? Sam: The first major thing I did was install a small 2.2 kW...

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Minnesota Department of Commerce University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension Great Plains Institute Southwest Regional Development Commission