Business Efficiency Project Faces 2020’s Challenges…and Adapts!

October 2021

With funding from a Southwest CERT seed grant, the Balaton Economic Development Authority created a business energy program, originally intended to recruit businesses from around the city to apply for assistance with reducing their energy usage and costs.

Complications due to the pandemic meant they needed to adapt their project. The end result: an efficiency project benefiting multiple businesses and community services in the Balaton Care Center.

This project transformed the lighting at our facility and will have a significant impact in reducing energy bills. The Balaton Care Center provides critical health care services to the local community and the businesses that lease space within the facility are enjoying the lighting improvements!

Lisa Graphenteen, Balaton Economic Development Authority

Project Beginnings: Business Energy Efficiency Program

In the initial phase of the Balaton Business Energy Efficiency Partnership, the EDA marketed the business energy program through the newspaper, social media, and direct business outreach. They were interested in working with businesses throughout the community but, given the particular challenges faced by businesses in 2020, they were unsuccessful in getting applicants. Businesses were hesitant to spend money on upgrades when they were uncertain whether they would even exist in the next year or two.

Project Pivots to the Balaton Care Center

To keep the project moving forward, they decided to work with the city on the Balaton Care Center, which housed numerous businesses. According to Lisa Graphenteen, the Balaton EDA director, “We did have a local restaurant show interest in November, but when an Executive Order shut their doors, they decided not to proceed. We marketed the effort for six months before we made the decision to use all funding for the businesses in the Care Center.”

What was once a city-owned nursing home built in 1972, is now the Balaton Care Center. The EDA decided that the best project for them would be to update all the lighting in the building to LEDs.

Graphenteen noted, “Nursing home budgets were tight, so many of the needed upgrades did not get done. Also, many of the spaces don’t have access to windows, so this project really helped brighten up the facility. With many partners offering health services, that is great for their patients as well.”

From Energy Assessment to Contractor Selection to Installation to Rebates!

For the initial energy assessment, they wanted to work with the Retiree Environmental Technical Assistance Program (RETAP), but the pandemic restricted RETAP auditors ability to travel. So, instead, the EDA reached out to the Energy Smart program.

EnergySmart was an easy, seamless program. I found the process to be really straightforward.

Lisa Graphenteen, Balaton Economic Development Authority

Energy Smart, in addition to offering a free energy audit, assisted them with getting an Xcel rebate that saved them about $5,000. The EDA also saved the city of Balaton a significant amount of money when the low bid from a local contractor, Efficient Energy, came in 48% below estimates. “Efficient Energy did an amazing job and were very quick,” added Graphenteen.

The project’s original estimated payback was three years, but with the rebates and the lower cost of the project, the payback was reduced to only 6-9 months.  The city is projected to save about $4,000 a year, which will allow them to keep lease rates low. With lower rates, they hope to attract more businesses and nonprofits into the Balaton Care Center.

Who's in the Balaton Care Center?

  • Sanford Health offers a health care clinic staffed two days per week.
  • The Health Enhancement Center offers physical therapy services at the center several days a week.
  • Pam’s Beauty Shop serves clients in the neighboring Lakeview Senior Housing assisted living facility and in the community.
  • Minnewaska Health Services leases the kitchen space, providing three meals a day to the residents of the neighboring assisted living facility.
  • Balaton EDA has an office in the building, and its board also uses the center for meetings.
  • Local volunteers have been working to establish a Nutrition Assistance Program for Seniors (NAPS) distribution site in the center.
  • Lutheran Social Services will use the center as a supper kitchen for various programs.

The Care Center is now a more inviting place to work and visit. “My office is there. It’s just so much brighter. There are some long halls that used to be dark that are now brighter. It’s just great working in this space now,” said Graphenteen.

Balaton's Next Step

This project has spurred the City of Balaton and the EDA to begin tackling their next big project – a new HVAC system.  The project has an estimated price tag of over $100,000, so CERTs is working to connect the city to programs to help them reach their goal!

Clean Energy Focus: LED lighting

Southwest CERT Seed Grant: $3,750

Total Project Cost: $10,432

Other Funds: utility rebates, Energy Smart grant, EDA matching funds

Project Team: Lisa Graphenteen, EDA; Jeff Johnson, CEE; Michael Atkinson, Energy Smart - MN Chamber of Commerce; Lonnie Lambertus, City of Balaton Mayor

People Involved and Reached: 490

Annual Energy Savings: 40,701 kWh

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