Minnesota businesses have a new resource for improving energy efficiency and saving money. Energy Smart, a program from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, is a statewide initiative designed to help businesses save money by taking advantage of conservation programs and increasing energy efficiency in their buildings and operations. Energy Smart will connect businesses with current Conservation Improvement Programs (CIPs) offered by the state's utilities and other resources that can analyze a company's energy usage, and then offer efficiency upgrade options, potential cost savings and available financial incentives. Energy Smart is intended to provide businesses with the information and tools needed to make informed choices about their energy use and efficiency upgrade options.

"We're here to help businesses save money through energy efficiency," says Mark Blaiser, executive director of Minnesota Waste Wise, an affiliate program of the Minnesota Chamber which operates this new initiative. "Energy Smart will help connect businesses to existing energy efficiency programs offered by the state's energy utilities. Saving energy is smart business."

The contract for Energy Smart, a pilot alternative CIP for 2008-09, was awarded by the Minnesota Office of Energy Security for inclusion in Minnesota electric utility CIP plans. It is funded by the state's four largest utilities — Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power, and Interstate Power and Light. State law requires utilities to reduce electricity demand in specific increments on an annual basis.

"Increased participation in utility CIPs, particularly on the part of Minnesota businesses, is a critical element of achieving the conservation goal that has been established for Minnesota as a part of Minnesota's Next Generation Energy Act of 2007," says Bill Glahn, director of the Minnesota Office of Energy Security and deputy commissioner of the Department of Commerce. Those goals include a 25% renewable energy standard by 2025, as well as a goal of 1,000 Energy Star- rated buildings in Minnesota by 2010.

"Many large companies have staff looking closely at reducing energy consumption and are seeing significant cost savings through efficiency upgrades," Blaiser says. "That isn't the norm for most small and medium-size businesses. That's where we come in. We can connect them with the appropriate resources." A lighting upgrade alone could save a business 35% of its lighting costs, Blaiser notes. Rebates, grants and low-interest loans are available from utility programs if a business implements certain energy efficiency upgrades. These financial incentives can help recoup some of the up-front investment costs to the business.

For further information about the program, visit the Energy Smart Web site.