June 14, 2024
Group informs Minnesota's Spanish speakers about money-saving clean-energy programs

Cooking with gas is the norm for many Minnesotans, especially those from Latin America. But emissions from gas stoves burn fossil fuels, while induction ranges provide heat through electricity, which is kinder on air quality.

Leaders of COPAL — short for Comunidades Organizando el Poder y la Acción Latina — want Minnesota’s Spanish-speaking community to know about programs that can help them switch to healthier, more environmentally friendly options such as induction stoves, environmental justice organizer Melody Arteaga said.

Organizers serving Minnesota’s Latin American immigrant community recently prepared tamales on induction cooktops while talking about lowering energy bills and greenhouse emissions in St. Paul. Such events seek to dispel the myth that electric stoves aren’t as good for cooking as gas, and to tell people how to use benefits aimed at transitioning to clean-energy technologies.

“People were really interested to learn, how do we save money and how is that related to our health,” Arteaga said.

The federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, plus benefits approved by the Legislature in 2023, offer Minnesotans savings in the form of direct rebates or tax credits on everything from electric vehicles to solar panels — including swapping out gas stoves for induction ranges.

The programs enable Minnesotans to score the clean-energy win-win: lowering emissions and saving money by installing more efficient, more electricity-dependent appliances and heating sources.

Benefits also can go toward buying a new or used electric vehicle, or adding insulation and upgrading windows to make a home more energy-efficient. Most programs pay out larger benefits to families with lower incomes.

Navigating the dozens of incentives and programs isn’t simple. But groups across the state are working to make the clean-energy transition as easy as possible and to ensure that no one gets left behind.

“Everyone is scrambling to have answers for people,” said Julia Nerbonne, executive director of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, a nonprofit that helps connect people with cost- and energy-saving benefits.

Minnesota’s Clean Energy Resource Teams — a partnership among University of Minnesota Extension, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the nonprofit Great Plains Institute and the Southwest Regional Development Commission — launched an Inflation Reduction Act guide in 2022 and has compiled a list of programs and resources to help Minnesotans plan improvement projects.

The partnership also started the Community Energy Ambassadors program, recruiting people statewide to spread the word about energy benefits.

“We really want Minnesotans to better understand clean-energy topics and incentives,” said Shaylyn Bernhardt, communications manager for Clean Energy Resource Teams.

COPAL directs people to the Clean Energy Resource Teams’ guide, which includes a savings calculator and a full Spanish-language toolkit on taking advantage of the Inflation Reduction Act from Alianzas Americas, a Chicago-based nonprofit.

Peter Lindstrom, Clean Energy’s regional manager of public sector and community engagement, explained at a May 8 information session how families can stack new benefits to make their homes more comfortable and energy-efficient.

The federal Energy Efficiency Home Credit offers a 30% tax credit with an annual cap of $1,200 per household, but has been expanded to include an additional $2,000 cap toward heat pumps, an electrically powered way to heat and cool buildings. The credit can go toward appliances, insulation and windows.

Minnesota has its own state heat pump program that can supplement the federal incentive. Two new federal rebate programs are expected to be rolled out in Minnesota near the end of the year to offer direct savings upfront.

Most Twin Cities residents can get home energy audits via the Home Energy Squad, a service provided by Xcel Energy, CenterPoint Energy and the Center for Energy and Environment. Visits cost $100, with discounts available in most cities and free audits for income-qualified households.

The Home Efficiency Rebates program offers discounts based on energy savings. If your energy usage decreases by 20%, you get $2,000; for 35% energy savings or more, the rebate rises to $4,000. Benefits double for those who qualify as having low to moderate incomes.

Minnesotans can see where they fall on their area median-income scales using a tool offered by the Commerce Department. In Hennepin County, a family of four earning up to $186,000 would be eligible.

Home Electrification and Appliance Rebates are specifically for low- and moderate-income households, with some funding going directly to Tribal Nations. Households earning less than 80% of the area median income — $97,800 for a family of four in Hennepin County — are eligible for 100% rebates on energy-efficient appliances. Those in the 80% to 150% area median-income range can receive a 50% rebate.

Federal incentives are bolstered by Minnesota’s credit and rebate offers. Minnesotans can apply for pre-weatherization funds that can help update old homes to take advantage of Inflation Reduction Act rebates and credits. State rebates for electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can be stacked with federal incentives, offering discounts on new and used cars that qualify.

For Arteaga, it’s important that Minnesota’s immigrants are able to access the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act. “Ahorrar es cuidar”— “Saving is caring” in Spanish — is the name of COPAL’s campaign to inform Spanish-speaking Minnesotans about the federal law and ways they can take advantage of the various rebates.

“When we frame it as trying out ways to save money, that’s a great way to connect to our community,” Arteaga said.

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