Options for residents, businesses to protect against high energy costs

March 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

SAINT PAUL, MN—The colder-than-normal winter has made for a rough heating season for all Minnesotans, especially those using propane. The Minnesota Department of Commerce wants consumers to know there are several options to help reduce their heating costs, such as financial assistance to help lowincome people pay their heating bills, energysaving programs to reduce heating costs, and secondary heating systems to supplement existing systems.

“The soaring propane prices this year no doubt have some people exploring different options to heat their homes and businesses,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “Sky-rocketing heating bills have raised the profile for new energy options such as solar thermal, ground source heat pumps, and high-efficiency wood energy systems. But first and foremost, we encourage all consumers to conserve and be efficient before investing in a new heating system.”

Rothman points out that if households consistently reduce their energy consumption (use programmable thermostats, weather strip doors and windows, seal air leaks, add insulation, maintain heating systems, and more), they can lessen their energy demand (and bills). This will reduce the size of the investment needed for a new energy system. Commerce offers some basic tips to reduce heating bills. Additionally, for a list of resources, visit the Stay Warm Minnesota webpage.

Energy assistance for propane users

To respond to the propane crisis, the Minnesota Legislature passed and Governor Dayton signed a bill on February 28 that increased EAP funding by $20 million. On January 27, Governor Mark Dayton declared a Peacetime State of Emergency. A Propane Emergency Hotline (800-657-3504 for greater Minnesota or 651-297-1304 in the Twin Cities) has been established and has assisted thousands of Minnesotans in need. The Administration took steps to make it easier for low-income Minnesotans to get financial assistance through the Energy Assistance Program (EAP) by increasing the eligibility criteria for EAP from 50% to 60% of state median income and also increasing crisis benefits from $500 to $1,000 for Minnesotans heating with propane and heating oil.

Minnesotans can apply for energy assistance by visiting the Energy Assistance section of the Department of Commerce website or calling 1-800-657-3710, where they will be connected to the local service provider in their area.

Weatherization Assistance Program

The Minnesota Department of Commerce also administers the Weatherization Assistance Program, a companion program of EAP. The program provides cost-effective energy conservation measures (e.g., energy audits, air sealing, insulation, repair or replacement of mechanical systems) to permanently reduce energy costs for low-income households.

Minnesotans who qualify for weatherization may also be eligible for the Renewable Energy Equipment Grant Program that provides solar air furnaces, low-emission outdoor wood/pellet boilers, and low-emission wood/pellet stoves to supplement heating. Both homeowners and renters may apply for weatherization.

Other forms of assistance may be available through county social service programs, community-based organizations and nonprofit agencies on the Stay Warm Minnesota webpage.

Solar rebate application period extended

Energy companies are receiving more inquiries about how solar thermal systems can help heat homes. The Commerce Department announced that the application process reopened on March 17 for its Made in Minnesota Solar Thermal Rebate Program. The rebate program is part of the 10-year, $150 million Made in Minnesota Solar Incentive Program to increase solar electric and solar thermal installations in the state. The program opened this year and runs through 2023.

Solar thermal systems use solar collectors to harness the sun’s radiant energy. The systems can be installed in residential and commercial facilities for space heating, water heating, and pool heating. A typical solar thermal air heat system won’t provide all the heat for a home or business, but it could cover approximately one-third of the space heating needs. For propane users, it could help offset heating costs significantly.

Solar thermal is an attractive option for Minnesotans today because of the Made in Minnesota rebate program and other incentives. For example, for a single family residential home, the program provides a rebate of 25 percent of the installed cost of a complete system up to $2,500. Add a 30 percent federal Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit to the equation, and more than half the cost of the solar thermal system will likely be covered.

State rebates are available to customers of investor-owned utilities (Xcel Energy, Alliant Energy, Minnesota Power, and Otter Tail Power) who install solar thermal systems with collectors certified as Made in Minnesota; rebates are for single family residential and multiple family dwellings and commercial installations. Applications for the solar thermal rebate program were taken this year from January 1-February 28, and the application period has been extended on a first-come, first-served basis. More information on the Made in Minnesota Solar Incentive Program is available online.

A recently completed study titled “The Value of Solar Heating and Cooling in Minnesota” assesses the potential for solar thermal to help achieve the state’s energy and climate goals.

Financial resources

Minnesota residents, businesses, and public entities can go to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables Efficiency (DSIRE), a comprehensive source of information on financial incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the United States. DSIRE includes up-to-date information on:

• Federal tax credits
• Federal grant and loan programs
• State loan programs
• State incentive programs
• State sales and property tax incentives
• Utility rebate, grant, and loan programs

The database provides a long list of Minnesota utilities that offer rebate programs to residential and commercial customers. Virtually every utility in the state—large investor-owned utilities and municipals and cooperatives—provides incentives on a range of energy-saving efforts, including energy audits, air sealing and insulation, new high efficiency heating and cooling systems, and efficient lighting.

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