The Neighborhood Energy Connection (NEC) is a nonprofit, 501 (c) 3 organization with a mission to reduce pollution, conserve resources, and improve quality of life by offering tools for energy-efficient living.
The NEC was incorporated on January 9, 1985 as the Saint Paul Neighborhood Energy Consortium, a coalition of Saint Paul neighborhood organizations that worked to improve residential energy efficiency. The NEC board included community organizers and citizen representatives from seven of Saint Paul’s volunteer district councils. Funding was provided by Northern States Power Company (now Xcel Energy) through the state-mandated Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) and by a grant from the Minneapolis Foundation.
During its first year of operation, the NEC conducted 1,298 residential energy audits and 261 energy management plans in Saint Paul.
In 1986 the NEC began a long-term partnership with the City of Saint Paul to manage its curbside and multifamily recycling program. Volunteers—the core of the program’s success—had increased from 900 to 2,400, while recycling volume increased from 868 tons to 4,023 tons. By 1999, the NEC had collected more than 20,000 tons of recyclable materials from Saint Paul residents.
During this period the NEC developed many new environmental initiatives, including a water quality program, a sustainable landscaping program; a free, Web-based used goods exchange system; a toxins reduction project; and a reclaimed wood furniture company, known as WoodWins. The NEC was instrumental in the construction of its new, green office space above the Mississippi Market food cooperative at the corner of Selby Avenue and Dale Street in Saint Paul.
At the turn of the century, the NEC determined that its recycling program was threatened by the growing consolidation of recycling processors, which were creating near monopolies across the country. Leadership proposed that the NEC begin processing recyclable materials by developing its own facility. In November, 2001 the NEC spun off its recycling program as a new nonprofit organization, now known as Eureka Recycling.
With its recycling program independent, the NEC Board refocused the organization’s mission on energy conservation. The NEC residential energy program expanded with a contract to provide home energy audits in several states for Xcel Energy. New programs were designed and funded, including HOURCAR, Minnesota’s first car-sharing program, and Peak Performance Homes, which brought ENERGY STAR® and LEED consulting to Minnesota. In 2004 the NEC acquired the assets of its older ally, the Environment and Energy Resource Center, gaining a residential energy financing program.
In 2005, the NEC Board took the major step of redefining itself. Now that the NEC served Saint Paul, Minneapolis, plus Minnesotans across the state (and even folks across the border in the Dakotas), the board gave the organization a new name: the Neighborhood Energy Connection. The NEC Bylaws were re-written to encourage leadership participation from individuals outside of Saint Paul.
In 2009, the NEC piloted a new program to install low-cost energy efficiency measures directly into people’s homes. Xcel Energy, which initiated conversations and program design with the NEC, engaged CenterPoint Energy to offer the program in CenterPoint and Xcel’s combined service territory. In 2010, the program was launched as the Home Energy Squad.
Contracts and programs of various sizes have been added along the way. The NEC ran the state’s largest bike ride, the Saint Paul Classic Bike Tour, for 14 years before passing it on to the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. Current projects include a deferred energy loan program for the City of Saint Paul, management of energy-efficient upgrades in foreclosed homes for Anoka County, Rochester, and Saint Paul, and implementation of a low-income energy efficiency program with the Energy CENTS Coalition.
Throughout its history, the NEC has been committed to helping communities live sustainably. The future is bright for the NEC, which continues to innovate, serve, and promote energy conservation in households, neighborhoods, and communities.