Relief In Sight?

Committee approves bill to help small businesses cope with rising energy costs

The increasing cost of energy continues to place a financial burden on small-business owners (See “Making Sense Out of Energy Deregulation,” Enterprise June 2007), but is assistance on the way? The House Small Business Committee unanimously approved a bill to counteract rising costs. The question is, will it work?

The legislation, H.R. 2389, the Small Energy Efficient Business Act, was introduced by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and co-sponsored by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the Small Business Committee.

The bill is designed to help small businesses develop, invest in, and purchase energy-efficient buildings, fixtures, equipment, and technology.

“In the past year, the Small Business Committee found that unstable and escalating prices for energy hit small businesses harder because they may not have the resources to withstand price spikes or to acquire new, energy-saving technology,” says Rep. Gwendolynne Moore (D-Wis.), who serves on the committee. “We saw a need to make sure that all business owners were aware of the support that is available to them as consumers.”

Through this legislation, Moore says the Small Business Administration will be required to develop a strategy for educating entrepreneurs and establishing an energy efficiency program for Small Business Development Centers. Also requested in the bill is investment in the production of alternative energy sources, such as biofuels, and the creation of the Renewable Fuel Capital Investment Program, which Moore says is designed to “help small firms develop renewable energy sources and new technologies.”
William Prindle, acting executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (www.aceee.org), believes there are benefits to the bill, but that challenges remain for many entrepreneurs. “This [bill] may not quite cover all the bases that would help move small businesses forward,” he says. According to Prindle, one of the biggest obstacles entrepreneurs will face is dedicating time to learn about energy matters.

“Small-business [owners] are not [energy] experts, and so they face a lot of market barriers,” says Prindle. He also notes that there is a limit to what Congress can do in terms of design and delivery of energy-efficient options. Needed, he believes, is a model that allows energy vendors to tailor efficiency programs specifically for entrepreneurs.

Despite the demands of running her Washington, D.C., home-based business, Abby Locke says she would make time to participate in energy efficiency programs. When the energy costs for her executive résumé writing and personal branding services business, Premier Writing Solutions, tripled Locke enrolled in her electricity provider’s budget plan. “I really want to understand ways in which I can make my facility save money. I want to understand the options for small businesses–grants or any type of assistance with energy costs.
Regarding the legislation, Locke says, “Like any consumer, satisfaction to me is going to become more personal when I see a difference in my pocketbook.”

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