Two complementary Twin Cities nonprofits, best known for helping residents pinpoint home inefficiencies and lower their energy usage, turned the magnifying glass on themselves this year. They realized they, too, could be a bit more efficient.
The Minneapolis-based Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) and the Neighborhood Energy Connection (NEC) in St. Paul announced they will merge to improve operations and to extend their outreach.
“We try to convince people of the importance of energy efficiency,” said Chris Duffrin, president of CEE, who will head the newly merged nonprofit. “We are talking to our customers about it. It’s important to look at ourselves as well.”
The new nonprofit, with offices in Minneapolis and St. Paul, will have 120 employees and a $16 million annual budget. No employees will be laid off.
It will continue working with Xcel Energy, CenterPoint Energy and several cities to offer low-cost energy assessments and low-interest loans targeted at improving home efficiency — insulation, a new furnace, new windows or even solar panels.
Last year, Home Energy Squads in the east and west metro areas visited 8,500 homes to complete energy assessments. They checked attics and walls for insulation, inspected furnaces and water heaters, applied weatherstripping around doors, and even changed out power-sucking incandescent light bulbs.
CEE, the larger of the two nonprofits, has a research arm, works with businesses on conservation and helps communities with energy planning. “We are looking for ways to influence the marketplace to make this even more of a no-brainer for homeowners as well as businesses,” Duffrin said.
CEE was formed in 1979 on the heels of that decade’s energy crisis. It started as the energy office for the city of Minneapolis and was spun off as a nonprofit. NEC was founded as a nonprofit in 1985. While similar groups in other states have diminished or disappeared over the years, the two nonprofits have thrived.
The energy squad in the west metro area is booked out a few months. An estimated one-quarter of Minneapolis homes have no insulation behind their walls. Building codes didn’t require it until the 1970s.
Xcel, Centerpoint and individual cities contribute to the home visits, which help offset costs to homeowners. People typically pay $50 to $100 per visit. Andy Baeten, CEE field operations manager, said they go into some homes where owners’ utility bills are $400 to $500 a month during peak summer or winter months.
“It’s half a house payment for some,” Baeten said.