Meet a Minnesota company designing sustainable architecture before it was cool

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DULUTH, MN – There are many ways to tell the story of one of Minnesota’s most successful energy programs, called the Conservation Improvement Program or CIP. In some cases, it’s told best with a tall, refreshing glass of beer from the  Mankato Brewery. In other places it’s the 30 employees that make up Cedar Creek Energy in Coon Rapids. In Duluth, it’s a newly lit, redesigned, energy efficient transit hub.

At a recent meeting on a hot day in Duluth, CEEM and our partners CEE (Center for Energy and the Environment) were pleased to convene our fourth legislative energy tour of the fall. One of CEEM’s member companies, LHB, Inc. was gracious enough to host this meeting, where we invited Sen. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth), Equilibrium 3 and Minnesota Power to talk about the outsized role that energy efficiency programming is playing in moving the needle in creating a clean energy economy in Minnesota.

We were there to highlight that it’s cheaper to save energy (1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour) than buy energy (8 cents per kilowatt-hour). That little fact is at the heart of the CIP program, which works as a rebate program facilitated by our state’s utilities – like Minnesota Power or Xcel Energy, through the work provided by efficiency installers or design firms like LHB.

The savings are passed on to customers – helping small businesses across the state make energy efficiency improvements – like more efficient lighting, heating and air conditioning. These improvements ALWAYS mean significant energy savings for the businesses, and it means jobs and a paycheck for the installers and designers. In fact, every $1 invested in CIP provides at least $4 in benefits due to economic activity, environmental benefits and energy savings.

LHB, an architecture firm situated in the heart of downtown Duluth, is well acquainted with the CIP program. In the words of Principal Kevin Holm, LHB has been doing sustainable architecture for 18 years, “before it was cool.” The company’s resume of projects are spread across the Duluth area, from Western Middle School where the firm worked to make the building cooler, to the recent remodel of the Duluth Transportation Center which we all had the opportunity to tour.

Equilibrium 3 is a Duluth-based non-profit that works with residents experiencing energy poverty. The group works to support renters and low-income residents to make energy upgrades which ultimately save them money on their energy bills. Their Executive Director Jodi Slick spoke about the importance of providing energy saving opportunities to people across the income spectrum.

Minnesota Power, whose coverage area includes the Duluth metro area, was also on-hand to talk about its Power of One Energy® Conservation Program, which provided 2.6% of energy savings last year, well above the state-mandated 1.5% yearly savings.

We invited Sen. Simonson to hear these stories from his district because we believe it’s important for all legislators to connect this successful energy policy to a project in their community. We believe that the strength of Minnesota’s clean energy economy relies on both big and small energy projects – from giant wind turbines and acres-wide solar projects, to efficiency upgrades that save energy in homes, schools, businesses and city-owned buildings.