Midtown scrutinizes electricity consumption

Small businesses around Lake Street provide a huge opportunity to find energy savings, according to a recent analysis by Xcel Energy.

“There is untapped potential out there,” said Matt Kazinka, Lake Street Council sustainability coordinator.

A data dive by Xcel shows which neighborhoods along the Lake Street corridor are using the most electricity. A community group called Partners in Energy will use that data in the coming months to target areas for energy savings.

The Midtown study covers the neighborhoods north and south of Lake Street border-to-border, including Southwest neighborhoods Whittier, Lyndale, Lowry Hill East, CARAG, East Isles, Cedar-Isles-Dean and West Calhoun.

Nearly 90 percent of properties in the Midtown study are residences, with 11 percent businesses. But businesses account for 59 percent of electricity use in the Midtown area, with residential use at 33 percent and industrial at 8 percent. 

Tami Gunderzik of Xcel Energy said the data appear a bit misleading, however, because some multifamily buildings use commercial accounts.

With many rental units in parts of Midtown, the average consumption per residential account is lower than typically seen in the overall Xcel Minnesota market, she said.

Of the Southwest neighborhoods’ commercial and industrial properties, Whittier uses the greatest proportion of electricity, followed by Lyndale and Lowry Hill East. Those neighborhoods also have greater shares of small businesses.

“This is a great geographic target for small businesses,” Gunderzik said. “This screams to have somebody go and do that.”

Partners in Energy is developing an action plan to promote energy savings programs, with a rollout planned for early summer. One success story may already be underway, called the Small Business Energy Coaches pilot project.

Kazinka said the city is fortunate to have so many small businesses open in the past 15-20 years along Lake Street. Many of them opened in buildings that are old and drafty, he said, and they’re using inefficient kitchens or outdated lighting.

“For some that can seem as a fixed cost,” Kazinkza said.

The pilot project begun last summer has sent coaches door-to-door on Lake Street to prove that energy is not in fact a fixed cost.

For small businesses with small margins, energy use can seem like a trivial issue, Kazinka said.

“They don’t necessarily have a lot of capital to make upgrades, especially small, family-owned businesses,” he said. “It’s hard without a lot of assistance. … Small  business owners are just incredibly busy, working on a thin margin, and they haven’t had the attention or ability to focus on this.”

Breaking down language barriers and taking an hour to help owners navigate the options has helped, he said.

“When they see they can make a change and can save money, whether it’s $100 or $5,000 a year, they get excited about that,” Kazinka said.

About 50 energy assessments have been conducted at Lake Street businesses, with plans for more. Six energy-saving projects are complete, with about 15 other candidates looking at bids and seriously considering changes.

Rodolfo Trujillo just finished a complete rehab at Trujillo’s Services near 4th & Lake, replacing lighting, windows and insulation. Trujillo gives a simple reason for his investment:

“I’m an accountant. It’s much cheaper, and there is less waste,” he said. “We’re at least saving $100 a month. I’ve got a five-year lease. Over five years, that’s $6-$7,000. … I wish more people would participate.”

Overall, electricity consumption hasn’t changed much since 2011, according to Xcel, and the biggest variable driving consumption appears to be the weather.

Gunderzik said she was surprised to see how high electricity use peaks in winter, drawing some to conclude that many space heaters are running in Midtown. Electricity consumption also rises sharply every summer as air conditioners switch on.

As part of Xcel’s analysis, staff looked at which neighborhoods have the most participation in energy-saving programs.

“We’re able to compare the use data to conservation data, so we’re able to see the level of impact,” said Faith Cable Kumon of the Midtown Community Works Partnership.

More neighborhoods east of I-35W are participating in residential energy conservation programs than neighborhoods in Southwest Minneapolis, with Longfellow and Cooper leading the pack. Neighborhoods with the least participation include Whittier, Lowry Hill East, CARAG and West Calhoun.

Conservation programs in Minneapolis include the Center for Energy and Environment’s Home Energy Squad, which is a home consultation available to Xcel and CenterPoint Energy customers.

Cable Kumon noted there are many neighborhoods with less than 10 percent of premises participating in a program.

“There is lots of room for improvement,” she said.


(Editor’s note: The Journals have launched “Confronting Climate Change,” a series of stories and commentary examining how local leaders, residents and businesses are addressing climate change.)