State energy projects get funding recharge

  • Article by: DEE DePASS
  • Star Tribune
  • June 26, 2009 - 10:08 AM

Minnesota was awarded $21.7 million in energy grants this week as part of the Obama administration's stimulus package that focuses on energy efficiency and job creation.

The funds are part of $54 million in energy funds promised to the state that will be used to reduce energy use and greenhouse gases as well as to create jobs, boost efficiencies and broaden renewable energy efforts.

Jeremy DeFiebre, a supervisor of the Minnesota Office of Energy Security, said $5.4 million in planning money was released to the state in March. The $21.7 million released this week is part of $204 million released to 10 states.

Minnesota's last installment will come when the other money has been spent and projects are accounted for.

Minnesota is still in the early planning stages of how to use the federal funds. The projects will largely target businesses, schools and local governments, DeFiebre said.

The grants are also headed to the St. Paul Port Authority, which is coordinating a program to save 1 trillion BTUs of energy usage mostly within industrial plants. The state Legislature has appropriated $5 million of the DOE money toward the program, which will be overseen by Xcel Energy.

Local governments and school districts are scheduled to receive about $6.5 million to install wind and solar energy systems, ground source heat pumps and district heating systems, a process that captures heat from biomass and coal-fired plants and diverts it to heat local government buildings, schools, residential water systems and other energy demanding entities, DeFiebre said.

Chris Duffrin, executive director of the Neighborhood Energy Connection (NEC) in St. Paul, said that the Legislature worked to allocate the DOE grants and made sure some will go to homeowners.

About $7.65 million of the $54 million energy grants will go to a future loan fund mostly run by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. The loans, which should be available up by year end, will route energy efficiency and residential fix-up funds through NEC and about 160 other lenders around the state.

"All of us will have access to that $7.65 million," Duffrin said. The state has not yet figured what the loan requirements will be. However, "in the past, [MHFA's] fix-up loans have typically targeted moderate income people," he said. "The income limit is usually about $96,000 per household."

Separately, about $2.5 million of the DOE funds will help train Minnesota electricians, plumbers and carpenters for "green jobs" such as those in the solar and wind-energy industries.

Another $2 million will become "emerging energy" grants that will go to new or expanding businesses specializing in renewable energy. "These will be one of the first ones we will roll out because there are a lot of timing issues related to getting new technologies on board," DeFiebre said.

About $3 million in funds will allow the state to continue an existing solar rebate program. Lastly, about $2 million is expected to help develop small wind-energy turbines or ground heat pumps that can be used by small businesses and homeowners.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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