Press Release

University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships 

More and more businesses in Minnesota are turning to energy-saving opportunities to have a cost-saving impact on their bottom line. There are many easy steps businesses can take, from upgrading lighting and HVAC equipment to increasing building air sealing and insulation.

But what’s the best fit for each business? That’s what representatives of the Clean Energy Resource Teams were discussing with Mille Lacs County businesses in Princeton, Milaca, Onamia, Wahkon and Isle when they visited on Tuesday, May 21. After a short conversation, each business was ready with steps to start saving energy and money right away.

“We love talking to local businesses about what they can do to avoid unnecessary energy costs,” said Melissa Birch, Central Minnesota Coordinator with the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs). “Most of the places we visited, from small manufacturing to restaurants and bars, were interested in making improvements that would save energy and money, and some were doing a great job already.”

CERTs staff visited 70 businesses on Tuesday in partnership with Mille Lacs County Economic Development. “People are excited to learn that energy doesn’t have to be a fixed expense,” Melissa Birch continued. “We help them understand the basics, think about steps they can take, connect them with utility rebates and let them know about financing that’s available through the County.”

Newly available to businesses in Mille Lacs County, Property-Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, financing provides project financing that is repaid as a separate item on property tax assessments for a set period. In this way, PACE eliminates the burden of upfront costs by providing low-cost, long-term financing.

“We were hearing from businesses in Mille Lacs County that they were looking for an easy way to pay for energy-saving improvements to their buildings, and PACE financing is now an excellent tool for helping them get it done,” shared Mike Wimmer, Economic Development Manager with Mille Lacs County.

The PACE program, available in 65 of Minnesota’s 87 counties, has been used by nearly 200 businesses to complete projects. Examples of improvements include HVAC upgrades, LED lighting, solar panels, electric vehicle chargers, condensing boilers, digital controls, insulation, variable-frequency drive motors, building automation systems and other water and energy conservation measures.

Insulation and LED lighting upgrades at AirCorps Aviation are saving energy and money while increasing comfort and productivity. “One of our company-wide focus areas is to eliminate waste, including wasted energy, so increasing the efficiency of the buildings only made sense,” said Sara Zimmerman, Business Coordinator at AirCorps Aviation. “PACE financing through Saint Paul Port Authority’s PACE program provided the opportunity to complete the improvements in an economical way that allows cash on hand to be used for growing the business rather than facility updates.”

“PACE was a perfect fit,” said Tanner Ott, a restaurant owner in Ely. “The funds allowed us to put on an insulated roof suitable for our northern Minnesota climate, upgrade our mechanical and HVAC systems and put in large, energy-efficient picture windows.”

Lake County Veterinary Clinic is another business that recently made use of the PACE program, in this case to install solar panels. According to owner Mike Overend, “Going solar was practical and doable. I’m proud of the results and would strongly encourage any other business owner to consider this type of project as a truly good thing to do for your business, your community and for our world.”

Mille Lacs County signed a joint powers agreement with the Saint Paul Port Authority authorizing the new PACE program. The Saint Paul Port Authority provides the PACE funding and administers all aspects of the program. Mille Lacs County places the assessment on the property, collects payments each year and passes money back to the Port Authority.

“PACE financing is different than a traditional loan and will help building owners in Mille Lacs County overcome several barriers to making energy-related building improvements,” said Peter Klein, Vice President of Finance for the Saint Pail Port Authority. “There are no upfront costs, and there is less of a reliance on credit.”

Get assistance: if you want to make sure that an energy expert stops by to chat with your business about energy-saving opportunities, please reach out to Melissa Birch, Central CERT Coordinator, at or (218) 866-2338. You can learn more about PACE financing at

The Clean Energy Resource Teams connect individuals and communities in Minnesota to the resources they need to identify and implement community-based clean energy projects. CERTs staffs and engages with communities in seven MN regions, each of which is guided by a steering committee of local people.

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