Clean Energy Resources for Food Shelves


Bemidji community food shelf shopperEnergy efficiency and solar projects are great ways to save money on energy bills, improve facilities, and provide a healthier and more inviting environment to shoppers.

CERTs offers free resources and custom project assistance so your food shelf can save money on energy use and better support your community.

Energy Efficiency + Renewable Energy Projects for Food Shelves

Saving money on your electricity bill can be as easy as cleaning equipment and forming new habits. This is a list of things you can do to improve your food shelf’s energy efficiency.

An important first step is getting an energy audit. An energy audit is a review of your facility by a professional which includes recommended actions and projects. Talk to your gas or electric utility providers and visit CERTs’ Energy Assessment & Benchmarking.

Actions to Take

  • Set refrigeration to energy-saving and food-safe temperatures. Recommended temperatures are 35-38 degrees Fahrenheit for refrigerators and 0 degrees for freezers.
  • Identify leaky refrigerator and freezer doors. Close the door on a piece of paper, and if it is easily pulled out, replace the seal/gasket. 
  • Check that refrigerator cooling coils are clean. Use a vacuum or duster to remove built-up dust and debris at least once per year. 
  • Defrost the inside of your freezer or refrigerator. If your freezer or fridge regularly ices up, then at least once per year, unplug it, and leave the doors open for a day or two to fully thaw out. Once all ice has melted, plug it back in and make sure it is fully cooled before putting food in it again. 
  • Move refrigeration units away from heat sources. Sources of heat might include heating system vents, radiators, cooking appliances, or even the sun’s warmth from a nearby window.
  • Use the power saver feature on refrigerators when available.
  • Unplug unused refrigerators or freezers. Be sure to prop doors open when unplugged.
  • Use refrigerator anti-sweat feature only when necessary. This feature is only needed when there is high humidity in the facility’s air.

Items to Consider Purchasing

  • Refrigerator/freezer thermometers to confirm the units are set to the correct temperature.
  • Seals/gaskets to keep cold air inside the refrigerator/freezer.
  • Open fridge covers to keep food cool outside of distribution times.
  • Open door alarms to prevent cold air loss if the door is accidentally left open.
  • Conductivity-based anti-sweat control to automatically shut off the anti-sweat device when not needed.

Actions to Take

  • Eliminate “day-burners.” Exterior and parking lot lighting should only be on at night. If they are on during the day, establish a practice of turning them off each morning or check for a failed or dirty light sensor.
  • Consider using automated lighting controls. These best fit low traffic spaces with lights that are routinely left on (restrooms, storage areas, hallways, etc). Visit ENERGY STAR’s Smart Lighting.
  • Replace incandescent or fluorescent lighting. Consider opportunities to upgrade to LED lighting from incandescent and fluorescent fixtures in areas where the lighting is most used. 

Items to Consider Purchasing

  • LED lighting  to replace inefficient incandescent lighting. Check out ENERGY STAR’s Upgrade Your Lighting.
  • Automated lighting controls:
    • Motion or occupancy sensors for low-traffic areas.
    • Daylight sensors to turn off exterior and parking lot lights during the day.
    • Timers to turn on or off lights under a set schedule.
    • Dimming controls in locations where natural lighting (windows, skylights, light tubes) is available or where less than full brightness is needed (hallways).

Actions to Take

  • Stop using individual space heaters. While they seem like a solution to heating small spaces, space heaters are very inefficient and are a fire hazard.
  • Regularly maintain your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. If you do not have staff trained to do this, have an annual maintenance contract to “tune up” HVAC during both fall and spring seasons. Use ENERGY STAR’s HVAC Maintenance Checklist.
  • Replace furnace filters monthly. This will improve the efficiency of the furnace, extend its life, and reduce dust in the facility.
  • Program your thermostat to heat or cool at specific times. A smart thermostat can be programmed to cool or heat spaces in advance rather than maintaining a constant temperature. Visit ENERGY STAR’s Smart Thermostats.

Items to Consider Purchasing

  • Smart thermostat to program your heating and cooling times instead of maintaining a constant temperature.
  • Air source heat pump to replace or supplement your heating or cooling system. Learn from CERTs’ Guide to Air Source Heat Pumps.

windows, doors, walls, and roofs that separate the inside and outside of a building

Actions to Take

  • Inspect doors and windows to find gaps or cracks. These air leaks can be weather-stripped, caulked, or filled with foam insulation. Visit the Department of Energy’s Weatherstripping webpage.
  • Use window shades to maintain indoor temperature. In winter, close shades at night and open shades on sunny days. In summer, close shades on sunny days.
  • Keep doors closed to the outside. Also, keep doors closed to any areas that are not heated or cooled.

Items to Consider Purchasing

  • Weather stripping or caulk to ensure cold air doesn’t slip through in the winter and hot air doesn’t slip through in the summer.
  • Window film to put over windows to prevent cold coming inside in the winter.
  • Window shades to block out the sun’s heat in the summer and retain building heat in winter.

Actions to Take

  • Activate power management settings on office equipment. Visit ENERGY STAR’s Activate Power Management on Your Computer for directions. Other equipment like monitors, printers, and copiers may have these settings available, too.
  • Identify equipment left on overnight. Equipment left in sleep, idle, or “screen saver” mode still use energy. Form habits to turn off equipment when not in use.

Items to Consider Purchasing

  • Power strips to more quickly turn off many plugged-in devices at once at the end of a day.
  • Smart power strips to automatically turn off computer accessories (monitor, speakers, printer) once the computer is powered down.

Energy Resources for Food Shelf Shoppers

According to a 2022 food shelf survey, 38% of food shelf shoppers said they had to choose between paying their utility bill and paying for food.

Below is a list of resources for educating food shelf shoppers about how they can reduce their home energy use. In addition to these resources, check with your local utility. They may provide energy assessments, suggest energy-saving programs, and offer rebates for energy-saving appliances. They may also refer you to local agencies for further support. To find out your utility provider, review your bill or visit

Cost-saving Energy Resources for Shoppers

Food box with bread, milk, and other items

  • CERTs home energy guides are easy-to-read guides which provide ways to save money at home. Both renters and owners can use these guides for single-family homes, manufactured homes, and apartments. They’re available in many languages including Spanish, Somali, and Hmong.
  • The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) provides free utility bill reviews, as well as seasonal energy tips. A utility bill review answers questions you have about your energy billing, finds ways to reduce your energy use, and offers information about cost-saving programs. To schedule a utility bill consultation, call 651-300-4701 ext. 2 or email [email protected].

  • CERTs Guide to the Inflation Reduction Act: The Inflation Reduction Act is federal bill providing rebates and tax credits to make energy-efficiency upgrades. CERTs’ guide shares up-to-date information about how residents can make money-saving upgrades at a low or even no cost.

Local Assistance Agencies + Programs for Shoppers

Hubbard Food Shelf mural Community Action Agencies

Community Action Agencies are organizations that provide local, state, and federal resources to help people. Find Community Action Agencies by county at the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Community Action Agencies provide various resources, including Energy Assistance and Weatherization Assistance. These programs work closely together to help income-eligible households.

Energy Assistance Program

Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program helps income-eligible households pay for energy and water bills. Local energy assistance providers can help with applications. Call 1-800-657-3710 and enter your ZIP code to find a local provider.

Weatherization Assistance Program

The Weatherization Assistance Program provides free home energy upgrades to eligible homeowners and renters. These upgrades help save energy and money and make sure a home is a healthy place to live. 

Some common upgrades include: 

  • Wall and attic insulation
  • Air-sealing windows and doors
  • Furnace, boiler, and water heater repair or replacement

Find local weatherization service providers

How to Apply 

To apply for Energy Assistance and Weatherization Assistance, complete an application and submit it to your local service provider online or by mail. The application window opens in October and closes in May.

Download Energy Resources for Food Shelf Shoppers [PDF]

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