Minneapolis businesses reopen with efficiency gains

This story comes from the Sahan Journal, a non-profit news organization working with immigrant and colored communities in Minnesota.

Timing wasn’t on Dawit Assefa’s side last year.

Assefa immigrated to the USA from Ethiopia 20 years ago. He opened his first laundromat in Rosemount in 2011 and opened HD Laundry along East Lake Street in south Minneapolis in December 2019, just months before the coronavirus pandemic. A few months later, police killed George Floyd and sparked rioting along Lake Street.

Looters ripped through the HD laundry on the first night of the riot. Assefa recalled, machines were smashed and window panes smashed in pursuit of coins. The damage was considerable, but when he examined the laundromat the next morning he found that it could be saved.

But that night the mall where HD Laundry is located went up in flames.

“The next day everything was gone,” said Assefa.

Today HD Laundry is preparing to reopen with a new, state-of-the-art laundry cleaning system that will drastically reduce the laundromat’s carbon footprint and provide customers with a higher quality of service. Assefa is one of several retailers building greener buildings with extended discounts on energy efficiency upgrades for companies hurt by last summer’s unrest.

The upgrades at HD Laundry are massive, but many companies, like an immigrant-owned restaurant mini-chain called Hamburguesas El Gordo, used the program to make minor improvements that bring significant benefits.

Extra savings when renovating

Utilities consistently offer discounts to any household or business that purchases equipment or equipment that vendors consider highly efficient through what is known in Minnesota as the Conversation Improvement Program. Both of the major utilities in the Twin Cities, CenterPoint and Xcel Energy, increased the size of these discounts for companies hit by the unrest last summer. But the application deadline for both programs on July 1st is getting closer and closer.

Many of the companies that were damaged in Minneapolis and St. Paul last summer are immigrant-owned and the utility companies have fact sheets about their programs in Hmong, Spanish and Somali. Both companies use the Star Tribune’s Damaged Property List to determine who qualifies.

CenterPoint offers triple discounts on energy efficiency upgrades to customers who have suffered damage. Because CenterPoint is a natural gas supplier, many upgrades have been made to kitchen appliances. A restaurant that adds a highly efficient oven could save about $ 6,000 from the discount, spokesman Ross Corson said, and more over time as gas bills come down.

“They’re talking about potentially thousands of dollars depending on the equipment,” Corson said.

CenterPoint, which supplies natural gas to Minneapolis and the western metropolitan suburbs, has added 42 companies to its rebuild program, Corson said. The utility estimates that the energy savings from the program will result in an annual avoidance of 423 tons of carbon dioxide emissions – roughly the emissions generated to power 50 average households for a year.

John Marshall, Xcel Energy’s director of community relations for Minnesota and the Dakotas, said 75 customers have signed up for the Special Recovery rebate program, which offers double the standard rebate rate for businesses damaged by the riots.

Both utility companies launched their expanded damaged property rebate programs last summer, but decided to extend the application deadline to July 1.

“We’ve found it takes a lot longer for business owners to understand their needs,” says Marshall.

Utility companies worked with community groups such as Lake Street Council and the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition to promote the program. Upgrades can range from a new air conditioner for a retail store, a new oven or walk-in cooler for a restaurant, to minor improvements like LED lighting.

Both companies said business owners should apply if they are considering upgrades and that applicants who purchase approved consumables will be offered discounts until the end of the year. The application is free of charge and the application does not oblige a company to install updated functions, but only entitles these shops to higher discounts if they do so.

“Benefits for customers and the environment”

HD Laundry receives a $ 36,000 discount from CenterPoint, the largest grant in the program to date. That money goes into a new laundry technology called the ozone system.

The technology uses electricity and oxygen to replace traditional laundry chemicals by creating ozone that dissolves in water and is absorbed by the drum. This makes hot water superfluous and the machine is better disinfected. Bacteria tend to grow in standard washing machines, but the ozone system remains more hygienic, Assefa said, which should mean cleaner clothes for customers.

Since the water does not need to be heated, the energy savings from the system are significant. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Smart program estimates that the new HD Laundry technology could save about $ 3,600 in energy costs annually. Cold water is also gentler on clothes.

The system reduces chemical consumption and speeds up wash cycle time. The new Assefa dryers will also be faster thanks to a high spin rate.

“It’s good for the environment and for customers,” said Assefa.

HD Laundry primarily serves immigrant customers, Assefa said. Many are African-American, Latinos, Somalis, or Ethiopians.

The ozone purification method is such a departure from traditional laundromat services that Assefa is trying to find signs in multiple languages ​​to ensure its customers know how to use the machines when they reopen. Finding a Spanish character should be easy, he said, but he’s still looking for a Somali translation.

Its new large washing machines were bought with immigrant customers in mind. Many Somali families have large carpets, Assefa said, and these customers used to struggle to fit the items into the 80-pound drums. But the new 125-pound machines can pick up the carpets and clean them with less energy than the older, smaller models from HD Laundry.

“I want to be as efficient as possible,” said Assefa.

‘A big difference’

Most of the upgrades through the discount programs are of a smaller scale. For Hamburguesa’s El Gordo, free energy audits have helped to save costs and reduce energy consumption.

Claudia Gutierrez came to Minnesota from Mexico in 1999. In 2015, she and her husband started a business selling Mexican-style street burgers from their old RV in Little Canada. Today Hamburguesas El Gordo operates four locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the last of which opened on Payne Avenue in East St. Paul last fall.

As many restaurants struggled at the start of the pandemic, Hamburguesa’s El Gordo saw a surge in take-away business. The boom in business enabled Gutierrez to invest in new air conditioning for the south Minneapolis site on Cedar Avenue. The building is old and the electricity bill was expensive.

Vandals caused serious damage to the Minneapolis site during riots last May. The restaurant on Victoria Avenue in St. Paul also suffered minor damage to the windows.

That damage made Hamburguesa’s El Gordo eligible for Xcel Energy’s recreational discount program, which Gutierrez used to get free energy efficiency audits for their restaurant buildings. She also noted that the restaurant was eligible for a discount on its new air conditioning system.

The energy audits resulted in the restaurant replacing its old lighting with efficient LED lamps and supplementing the lighting with sensor systems that avoid waste. This change has saved the restaurant about $ 100 a month.

“I see a big difference in electricity bills now,” Gutierrez said.

She said the restaurant was considering adding a new, energy-efficient walk-in cooler that would also qualify for the additional discount.

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