Rebates power change, savings

FAIRMONT — The Fairmont Area School District recently made headlines for receiving a rebate of almost $153,000 by switching to LED light bulbs at the elementary and high schools.

The cost of the project was $672,000, an amount that will be recouped within five years courtesy of the energy-efficient lighting.

Not every business needs to replace 6,500 bulbs like the school district, but the rebates available to Fairmont Public Utilities commercial and residential customers can be significant, whether installing LED lighting or purchasing energy-efficient electric appliances.

“There’s a lot more rebates that are available than just for Christmas lights. There’s a potential for a rebate for just about anything that uses electricity,” said Troy Nemmers, Fairmont city engineer/public works director.

In 2007, the state passed legislation requiring utilities to undertake a conservation improvement program to reduce electrical usage. Each operating utility was given a goal to reduce kilowatt-hours by 1.5 percent, meaning Fairmont’s goal was a reduction of about 2.7 million kilowatt-hours.

In 2018, Fairmont blew past that goal, with the rebate program credited for saving an estimated 5 million kilowatt-hours of energy.

“This is roughly equivalent to the energy used by 500 residential households per year,” Nemmers said. “For reference, the entire community consumes about 145 million kilowatt-hours annually.”

In the past five years, commercial and residential utility customers have received more than $1.3 million in rebates.

The rebate amounts are determined by Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, which provides electricity for Fairmont and 17 other municipalities in the state. Rebates are paid locally, and then SMMPA reimburses the city.

Residential rebates can run from $125 for a new furnace to $10 for LED ceiling fan lights. Commercial customers might qualify for a $900 rebate for a combination oven.

“A lot of businesses are using the rebates for their compressed air studies, eliminating leaks,” Nemmers said. “There is a representative from SMMPA that can come out to businesses and help them if they want to do a compressed air study or look at their lighting.”

The city also has taken advantage of the rebates by upgrading to LED lights at City Hall, but a significant financial impact stems from switching the streetlights to LEDs. For 30 years, Fairmont’s streetlights used high pressure sodium lamps. In 2016, the electric department began a project to switch the majority of the 1,300 streetlights to LEDs. The initial cost of each light was about $260, but SMMPA’s rebate program lowered the final cost to $70 each. The new bulbs have a 20-year life expectancy with a return on investment in about three years. The conversion was completed at the end of 2018 and will result in a 70 percent load reduction for the city’s streetlights and a savings of up to $10,000 per month.

“Even with all these rebates in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, we still had a 2 percent increase in electric usage for the whole city. Everything has become electrified,” said Nemmers, pointing to the number of cell phones, laptops, tablets and other electronic devices that are plugged in daily in almost every household in Fairmont.

“But there’s a lot of opportunities out there for energy efficiency, and most of those correlate to a rebate that’s available,” he said.

More information about utility rebates is available on the city’s website,, under “Popular Links” on the left side of the page, or by calling City Hall at (507) 238-9461.