Energy efficiency expert's view: Efficiency saves jobs and moneyA major energy resource exists in Minnesota — somewhere you’d least expect. This resource protects the environment and creates jobs.
By: Cindy McComas, for the News Tribune
A major energy resource exists in Minnesota — somewhere you’d least expect. This resource protects the environment and creates jobs.
It is Minnesota’s manufacturing sector and the way manufacturers use energy. Energy efficiency is considered the largest source of new energy. With investments in proven energy-efficiency measures, Minnesota’s largest manufacturers could conserve 20 percent to 25 percent of the energy they use. Realizing this potential, the Minnesota Legislature recently prioritized energy efficiency as a resource for utility planning, saying cost-effective energy-efficiency projects should be done before spending hundreds of millions on power plants.
Manufacturing plays a vital role in Minnesota’s economy, employing 13 percent of the state’s work force while creating products that are used across the world. But the industry uses vast quantities of energy to create these products. With 414 industrial customers, Minnesota Power’s industrial base uses about 75 percent of the electricity it produces. Twelve of those industrial customers use 60 percent of the power produced by Minnesota Power. Those customers are taconite plants and paper mills, and energy is a major cost for them.
The potential for energy efficiency and cost savings at these large facilities is significant. Investing in energy efficiency could save millions of dollars every year for Minnesota’s factories while safeguarding jobs and helping them become more competitive.
Efficiency also is the most cost-effective way to reduce dependence on coal-fired power plants, which greatly affect public health.
Despite all the advantages, some of Minnesota’s largest energy users choose to “opt-out” of participating in Minnesota Power’s energy-conservation programs. Essentially, they are on their own to reduce their energy use and implement cost-effective energy-efficiency practices without taking advantage of utility incentives.
But not all manufacturers in Minnesota are falling behind, and those that are investing in efficiency are seeing paybacks. Gerdau Ameristeel’s grinding ball manufacturing plant in Duluth used a state grant to switch to an energy-efficient power supply that will save the company $50,000 a year. Other manufacturers are using money from the Conservation Improvement Program to install more efficient electric motors and to make improvements in compressed-air systems.
The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program worked with manufacturers that saved millions of dollars after reducing energy waste. We recommended many projects that never were implemented, most typically due to a lack of capital, company commitment or company understanding.
Manufacturers have a choice: They can pay to invest in more efficient technologies or they can continue to pay uncertain costs to buy more energy using inefficient processes. The answer is pretty common sense.
A recent poll conducted by Peak Campaigns found that Minnesota Power customers want large industrial energy users in northern Minnesota to come to the table to find real solutions to increase energy efficiency and to reduce dependence on coal. People in northern Minnesota want more energy efficiency, and they want factories, mills and mines to be part of the solution.
An overwhelming majority want Minnesota’s largest energy users to set a goal of using 20 percent less energy by 2020 through the elimination of energy waste. They want to help the large energy users get to that goal by incentivizing those large industrial energy users to use less energy, and we know it is possible.
Minnesota can transform the way we use energy, protect the environment and create jobs. Minnesota manufacturers can stay on the cutting edge. Clean energy can keep moving forward. And northern Minnesota’s air can be protected for generations to come. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Cindy McComas of Minneapolis is an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota and was director of the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, or MnTAP, for 25 years.