A local restaurant owner who participated in the program

Minneapolis Climate Change Grant turns up the heat for local food service energy efficiency efforts

For over four years, the City of Minneapolis has worked with residents, nonprofits, community organizations, schools, and businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the local level with the Climate Change Innovation Grants. The grants allowed participants to implement their own sustainability initiatives, and are funded through Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant dollars from the U.S. Department of Energy.

During the 2010-11 grant cycle, one of the recipients was the Food Service Energy Leadership Program (at the time housed at Eureka Recycling). This program had been working for over a year with a growing number of restaurants and grocery stores in the Twin Cities to identify energy-saving opportunities, recommend low-cost improvements and help businesses navigate larger investments. The opportunity for energy efficiency in restaurants and grocery stores is huge – the sector uses over 2.5 times more energy per square foot than average commercial businesses.

The climate change grant funding allowed the team to focus on implementation of proven low-cost technologies. This consisted of training restaurant owners and contractors around the opportunities. In addition, the grant allowed exploration around some low cost retrofit technologies and provided small rebates to businesses for retrofits that utilities didn’t currently rebate.

Training was crucial toward building the knowledge of energy-saving opportunities in the food service sector. The City of Minneapolis, CenterPoint Energy, Xcel Energy, and Dunwoody College sponsored a half day training for food service operators, contractors serving food service businesses, food service regulators and energy professionals. To lead the training, the team brought in food service energy expert Richard Young from the Food Service Technology Center in California. The Food Service Technology Center has been researching energy efficiency in food service for over two decades. The Twin Cities food service community greatly benefited from Mr. Young’s years of experience (click here for details about the event).

It’s hard for energy professionals (let alone business owners) to stay on top of all the new energy efficiency gadgets being released. The team spent some time considering a few new technologies for restaurants. One such technology turns off the door defroster on glass door reach-in coolers. Three of the program’s participating restaurants got bids through this program, but none of them followed through with implementing the retrofit. Beyond this one example, the grant also helped establish many relationships with contractors, which has had a lasting impact of better informed contractors and better energy efficiency services for the food service community.

Many of these low-cost technologies are proven energy savers; all that is needed is a bit of encouragement to get businesses owners to act. The Food Service Energy Leadership team leveraged the grant to secure matching funding for mini rebates for restaurants and grocery stores in Minneapolis. These mini rebates focused on proven technology that was not currently rebated by utilities serving Minneapolis. Restaurants lept at the chance to get some help making their business more energy efficient and the rebates supported such projects as adding side panels to ventilation hoods and replacing broken gasket seals on refrigeration and freezer doors.

Venbing Jogwuia, Energy Efficiency Technical Specialist for the Food Service Energy Leadership Program says, “These little rebates helped some of our businesses pull the lever and go ahead with the energy efficiency project. However, rebates only go so far, businesses want to see a return on investment, so these rebates help make that case stronger as well.”

When a bigger expense was needed, businesses were assisted by a City of Minneapolis zero-percent interest loan program (with 20% of the loan given as a grant!). This loan helped a number of businesses move ahead with energy efficiency retrofits. In fact, the first loan awarded was given to a small grocery store, Reidy’s Market, for an LED retrofit of the lighting in their glass door display coolers.

Restaurants and grocery stores continue to have excellent opportunities for saving energy. The task of identifying the opportunities for each business and pairing them with knowledgeable contractors to support their retrofits will be a long term need. But this support from the City of Minneapolis was a positive step in the right direction.

For more information about energy savings in food service visit: http://food.mncerts.org or contact Nancy Kelly, Managing Engineer of Energy Programs with Michael’s Energy, at 612.418.3432 or nmkelly@MichaelsEnergy.com.

Project Snapshot:

  • Number of restaurants: 56
  • Number of grocery stores: 14
  • Sample low-cost recommendations:
    • Install programmable thermostat
    • Repair gaskets on coolers and freezers
    • Turn down make-up air temperature in winter
    • Replace lighting with CFL or LED
    • Reduce water use with efficient spray valves and aerators
    • Talk to employees about energy use

Other Local Government Energy Action Food Service Efficiency Stories:


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