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At Issue: Warm homes, cool jobs

Published (5/29/2009)
By Sue Hegarty
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An unprecedented number of houses throughout Minnesota will be retrofitted to conserve more energy and hundreds of jobs will be created as a result of a new law and federal economic stimulus funding.

Up against a May 12 deadline, the Office of Energy Security submitted an application to receive an estimated $196.75 million in federal stimulus funds earmarked for energy improvements. Nine days later, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law how the money will be spent.

Pawlenty sent a May 23 letter to Steven Chu, secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, assuring him that Minnesota is poised to move forward with energy efficiency programs.

“We are prioritizing our energy investments to take advantage of existing programs and expand programs where appropriate. Our State is committed to a robust improvement in energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as a balanced State energy policy,” Pawlenty wrote. Awarding of the energy stimulus package is expected sometime this summer.

Immediate needs addressed

Weatherizing residences, state government buildings and public schools account for a large portion of the new law, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Kalin (DFL-North Branch) and Sen. Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul).

Training and hiring people to perform weatherization tasks and energy upgrades to schools and public housing with the stimulus funds is expected to save taxpayers’ money by reducing unemployment and utility costs. Less than 3,800 public housing units are weatherized annually now; that number could increase to 35,000 once the federal dollars are received.

The new law outlines several policies related to the expenditures:

• contractors must ensure that workers are qualified and have participated in apprentice and training programs for the work being performed;

• the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency will coordinate loans, grants and rebates for energy improvements to qualified residents, including for energy efficient window installation;

• a revolving loan fund for Duluth customers of Minnesota Power will stretch stimulus dollars, and a grant program for its customers in communities with less than 4,000 people will be established;

• local governments may apply for block grants to plan for and implement energy upgrades, such as window replacement or street lighting;

• Department of Education staff will help prioritize school district projects that optimize energy savings and improve the learning environment for students; and

• state government buildings will receive lighting upgrades, window repair or replacement and other energy upgrades.

Brighter future with renewables

With an eye to the future, Minnesota will plan for a national energy efficiency center designed to test and measure energy saving performance of equipment. Stakeholders will include the Center for Energy and the Environment, the Minnesota Center for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence, and the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program at the University of Minnesota.

A former school building in the city of Kennedy will also be converted for use as a renewable energy business center through a grant provision in the new law.

Rebate money will be used to encourage the movement toward renewable resources, such as solar or geothermal production of electricity. Both homeowners and businesses may be eligible for rebates when they install solar energy.

Schools, park districts, port authorities and local governments will be able to submit financing proposals to the commerce commissioner for purchase and installation of renewable energy systems or geothermal heating and cooling systems. Criteria used when awarding grants include projects that use parts manufactured in Minnesota; those that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and geographic diversity of grant recipients. Schools that accept the grants must include information about their renewable energy project into their education curriculum.

Even companies that manufacture parts for renewable energy systems may be eligible for grants. Applicants must demonstrate that their company will help position Minnesota as a center for renewable energy manufacturing.

The St. Paul Port Authority will receive money to establish a revolving loan fund for Xcel Energy’s commercial and industrial customers. Though the authority will accept the grant, the money will be disbursed as sub-grants to Xcel Energy business customers throughout the state.

The Office of Energy Security has more information on its Web site, which will be updated as new information becomes available. Log onto www.energy.mn.gov and click on the federal stimulus energy info box on the right-hand side of the homepage.

HF680/SF657*/CH138

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