We all know the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” When it comes to energy use, as the proverb states, we can gain more benefit by teaching users to increase energy efficiency than by merely gifting them with improved products. Additionally, while large-scale power users lay claim to a larger wattage volume, proportionately small businesses spend more on energy and have the most to gain from efficiency improvements.
According to the EPA, the nation’s small businesses spend more than $60 billion a year on energy—that is not an insignificant amount. Additionally, the EPA estimates that increasing energy efficiency can reduce those bills by up to 30%, and those savings can mean that small businesses can “save as much money and prevent as much pollution, per square foot, as large corporations” (www.energystar.gov/ia/business/challenge/learn_more/SmallBusiness.pdf).
This week, Connecticut unveiled a funding program specifically aimed at helping small business increase energy efficiency while managing their current electricity costs. While the pilot program (the first of its kind in the nation) won’t be up and running until next month, the joint announcement by Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Senator John Fonfara (D-Hartford) revealed that up to 1200 small businesses could qualify for assistance. This is great news for small businesses who, proportionately speaking, often end up paying more for their electricity than their larger counterparts—often without the added benefits of deep pockets and political influence enjoyed by the latter.
The program is funded with $1 million contributed by Dominion, owner and operator of Millstone Power Station in Waterford, along with an additional $150,000 provided by the Public Service Enterprise Group, parent company of PSEG Power LLC, which owns and operates the Bridgeport and New Haven harbors.
Operation Fuel—a nonprofit that normally assists lower-income families in financial crisis but ineligible for federal aid—will administer the program and any business with fewer than 50 employees and less than $1 million in annual sales will qualify for grants of up to $1,000 along energy conservation training. Right now the program is limited to companies operating in five Connecticut cities—New London, Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury—that are women or minority owned. While many businesses receiving the funding will use the monies to pay down existing balances, the program will also include education seminars designed to teach owners how to use their energy efficiently in order to lower their operating costs.
In a statement released this week announcing the program, Robert M. Blue, Dominion senior vice president-Law, Public Policy & Environment said, “Small businesses such as those will be assisting play a vital role in the communities in which they operate, creating jobs and making many of their purchases locally. Helping the owners succeed is good for them, their customers, and their neighbors."
The hope is that the program will inspire several copycats throughout the country and maybe even inspire a national model. The focus on businesses owned by minorities and women is based on the view that those companies are often more economically fragile with fewer resources at their disposal.
“The pilot project is going to result in better educated small business owners and better data about the energy needs of minority- and women-owned small businesses," said Patricia Wrice, executive director of Operation Fuel, in a statement announcing the program.
The program is focused on helping those businesses regain control of their finances while at the same time educating them about energy efficiency, so that they can better navigate their future power needs. During the five-year span of the pilot project, the focus will be on economic recovery and job creation.
So what do you think? With stakes so high—30% savings on $60 billion a year is nothing to sneeze at—wouldn’t it make sense to shift our focus from large energy users to possible proportionate savings? As the EPA estimates, helping small businesses increase their energy efficiency might actually give us more bang for our buck—so does it make sense for the federal government to funnel monies to R&D projects without also including funding for some practical programs? Should we even be waiting for action from DC, or would we be better served by other states taking Connecticut’s lead and starting their own programs tailored more specifically to meet the needs of their communities?
Additional information about the Connecticut program can be found [here].