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Equipment Upgrades Can Mean Energy, Money Savings for Operators

Ann Lovcik of CenterPoint Energy (center, right) presents JW Marriott with a rebate check for $13,100 following the installation of high efficiency, natural gas equipment at the hotel connected to the Mall of America.

Kitchen equipment is a major investment for any restaurant owner or foodservice operator, with costs for pieces such as a high production fryer or commercial combi oven ranging from $5,000 to nearly $40,000. 

That’s why in her role as CenterPoint Energy’s foodservice energy efficiency expert, Ann Lovcik aims to get those operators to see these purchases as just that: an investment. 

“Absolutely, it’s a big investment and that’s why I’m trying to help the customer look at investing into a piece that will actually last longer, is more efficient” and helps reduce energy costs, said Lovcik, who also alerts operators to CenterPoint’s expanded rebate program to help recoup some of the cost. 

CenterPoint’s natural gas customers in Minnesota can take advantage of the company’s Conservation Improvement Program, which offers foodservice equipment rebates and in 2016 resulted in energy savings equivalent to the energy use of 550 homes. This year the company added new tiered rebates for combi ovens, griddles and steamers.

“It’s meant to encourage energy efficiency and motivate people to buy a more efficient piece and get a higher rebate,” said Lovcik of the new rebates.

The savings can prove significant. Lovcik gave the example of a restaurant that in 2016 purchased convection ovens, a salamander broiler, kitchen hood demand-control ventilation and a water heater, and received a total rebate of nearly $3,900—not to mention ongoing energy savings. 

Lovcik also stressed kitchens don’t have to sacrifice on quality or volume with natural gas equipment.

“Restaurants can use less energy without compromising on the quantity and quality of the food they’re producing,” said Lovcik. “[This equipment] produces and saves, you’re not sacrificing one for the other.”

Xcel Energy, too, offers rebates for both natural gas and electric equipment. In a case study the company noted South Washington County School District in Cottage Grove received $7,000 in rebates following the replacement of old equipment with three combi ovens and 10 hot food holding cabinets.

“A $7,000 difference is a big deal for a cost-conscious school district,” says Al Joe, Xcel Energy account representative. “Rebates make upgrading equipment possible and provide a great incentive.”

At Lino Lakes-based Meridian Energy Products, Jeff Rutz offers free energy audits for businesses, then can recommend and install energy-efficient lighting and refrigeration technologies—all while helping owners take advantage of grants and rebates to reduce their investment. 

“Running a restaurant is a full-time, times-two, job, so that’s why we will put the information in front of you,” said Rutz, who will verify any rebates and incentives and work with the utility company.

“Most of our energy upgrades pay themselves back in 11 to 14 months,” he continued, noting that for small operators it’s especially impactful to reduce energy costs. “When it comes to a local one- or two-location owner, those dollars can have an immediate impact on the bottom line.” 

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