Minnesota’s energy world has never been more complex or uncertain than it is today, prompting necessary innovations and new economic models for success. The more things change, however, the more they remain the same. At the end of the day, the bottom line is still king. But whether you draw that line at the level of energy users or the energy sector, there’s more than one route to getting there.

I read with interest your article “New Energy, New Economics” (June). It captures the current state of Minnesota’s electric utilities and the powerful new levers unleashed by recent cost drops in wind and solar production.

For almost four decades, the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) has played a role in our state’s evolving energy generation and distribution approaches, which have been especially volatile in recent years. Today’s emerging technology allows for more control than ever over energy use and storage. Recognition of climate change has upped the urgency and helped usher in important new carbon-reduction strategies. And outdated utility models have prompted action toward new customer-focused solutions for long-term energy security.

Yet throughout all these changes, one truth remains a constant: Reducing wasted energy is far and away one of the best business investments you can make.

No question: Our energy future will depend on renewables, and affordability is critical. But don’t forget the basics: Concentrating first on saving money through energy efficiency maximizes your control over where and how you spend your money—and you may have other ideas for your savings instead of handing them over to a utility or a solar developer.

There are clear economics in efficiencies, just as in renewables. In the past 20 years alone, Minnesota has saved $6 billion through its utility efficiency programs, ranked in the top five nationally by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Efficiency helps avoid a need for more power and more power plants, which all customers pay for through electric rates.

In fact, in the past 18 years our state’s efficiency programs have helped us avoid 97 million tons of carbon dioxide and other emissions. And all these big numbers begin in individual homes and businesses. In one recent example, CEE engineers identified $77,000 in potential annual energy savings for the Hotel Ivy in downtown Minneapolis.

Minnesota has a long way to go in our energy evolution, and some of our biggest payoffs will come from improving how we, the utilities and their regulators interact and collaborate to increase the overall effectiveness of the system to benefit residents and businesses. But in the meantime, energy efficiency today will make your business stronger, our economy healthier, the air cleaner and the state more energy secure—a “win-win-win-win,” as my former boss, Tim Pawlenty, would say.

A primary rule of economics is to save first and spend wisely. Even as we explore exciting new opportunities for energy spending, Minnesota will do well to remember the power of saving. TCB

Mike Bull is the director of policy and communications at the Center for Energy and Environment, a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis.

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