Research team aims to spark Latino entrepreneurs’ interest in energy efficiency and discounts
Fatima Landaverde is a busy woman. The 35-year-old owner of Rincon Chalateco restaurant in West St. Paul, which serves traditional cuisine from her native El Salvador, does just about everything from cooking, cleaning and ordering supplies to managing her three employees.
The restaurant is painted blue and white, the colors of the Salvadoran flag. There are about a dozen tables, a counter with a cash register, and a kitchen. At 10:30 am on Friday morning, three groups of diners sat down to enjoy the food.
So when a few researchers came to talk to Landaverde about her energy bills and needs, they had to wait a few minutes before she was free.
Leslee Gutiérrez, a climate justice organizer with the non-profit immigrant advocacy group Communities Organizing Latino Power and Action (COPAL), and Fritz Ebinger, a member of the Clean Energy Resource Teams with the University of Minnesota Extension, were in West St Paul to find out if Landaverde was aware of the various energy efficiency programs available to him.
The interview was part of a larger research effort that aims to help traders like Landaverde access discounts on energy efficient equipment and identify barriers to immigrant-run businesses taking advantage of benefits available to all taxpayers. . The effort is funded by a 2021 grant from the Minnesota Department of Commerce to COPAL, the nonprofit Great Plains Institute, and the University of Minnesota Extension.
“We want to see where they are at with their understanding of the programs,” said Kris Acuña of the Great Plains Institute.
Identify the obstacles
The coalition of nonprofits and the Clean Energy Resource Team made stops in Latin American communities across the state, such as Willmar, Worthington and West St. Paul, with a trip planned to Austin in late September. Teams are going door-to-door, asking small business owners about their energy bills and any upgrades they might want to make, and whether they are aware of any potential discounts available for upgrading to more energy efficient equipment. The teams offer business owners a $ 50 Visa gift card to compensate for their time.
Business owners like Landaverde have a lot to do. It’s hard to find the time to look for low-interest loans to pay for new technology, like an electric air-source heat pump, that could save money in the long run and reduce its carbon footprint.
Across Minnesota, various utilities, local governments, and nonprofit organizations are offering incentives for residential and business customers to reduce their energy use through efficiency. Programs and offers vary, from free LED lights and big discounts on new home appliances to low-interest loans that pay for new air conditioning and heating systems.
As part of the Minnesota Conservation Improvement Program, utilities are required to invest taxpayer dollars in programs that reduce emissions and lower costs to consumers. The programs are open to all taxpayers in the state, and getting immigrant business owners to understand that the programs are not handouts can be a big step in getting them interested in leveraging the funds, Ebinger said.
“These are not charity dollars, these are taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Researchers are still collecting data, but have identified two barriers that prevent immigrant business owners from accessing programs, Ebinger said. The first applies to all small business owners, regardless of their immigration status – they’re busy, and thinking about buying a new energy-efficient refrigerator that would qualify for a utility rebate and savings on the budget. road is not a priority. The second is language. While larger utilities like Xcel Energy have information in multiple languages, smaller municipal suppliers often do not. This can make it difficult to publicize the discounts.
While many projects can have high upfront costs, service managers with utilities can tell people when an upgrade will pay off in energy savings, Ebinger said. He added that discounts arrive quickly after purchase.
Acuña hopes the grant-funded study will give state regulators the information they need to channel more funds to translation services in public services, which could lead more people and businesses to take advantage of the benefits. programs available.
These discounts and incentives fulfill an important climate function by helping to reduce energy consumption. Emissions from commercial buildings increased 15% between 2005 and 2018, according to a 2021 report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Making commercial spaces more energy efficient is a key component for Minnesota to meet its set climate target of an 80% reduction from 2005 levels by 2050. The state is currently well behind those targets, according to The report.
But for most small business owners, the most practical reason to upgrade is financial.
“What people like most is ‘it can save you money,’” Acuña said.
At a booth in the Rincon Chalateco restaurant, Gutiérrez and Ebinger ask Landaverde questions about her electricity bill and what improvements she might want to make to her business in her native Spanish.
Electricity is a major business expense, Landaverde said. She explains that she manages her electricity bill the old fashioned way, by mail. When she has questions, she calls Xcel Energy on the phone and speaks to a representative in Spanish. But, she doesn’t know much about energy efficiency improvements and rebate programs. Above all, it wants to modernize its heating and air conditioning system.
“I need a lot of things but we have to do it step by step,” Landaverde said.
Landaverde arrived in Minnesota from El Salvador in 2002, she told researchers. This is his second restaurant in the Twin Cities, and opening it has been a battle, in large part because of the cost of the electrical work. She first got her space on Cesar Chavez Street in late 2018, but found she had to pay to redo faulty electrical work and lighting.
By the time everything was ready, COVID-19 hit and the restaurant was temporarily closed. It finally reopened in June 2020. The Salvadoran community in Minnesota has grown since arriving almost 20 years ago, and with most of the restaurants in West St. Paul serving Mexican fare, she said that ‘she had a stable base of customers looking for home flavors.
Each business visited by researchers has unique needs, but most could save additional money. Landaverde listened intently and asked about upgrading his air conditioning. She received advice on hiring a technician for electrical work.
At the end of the interview, Landaverde said she wanted to learn more about potential discounts and other savings. Gutierrez and Ebinger jotted down the names of program contacts and resources on the back of a green envelope and handed it to him.