Status of Stimulus Funds for Green Businesses: Pools and Channels

Renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green building are key economic trends of the 21st century, each potentially worth tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars.  There are many reasons why businesses in these fields will grow, including the massive investment by the US Government as part of the February 2009 stimulus bill. All of these industries make solid business sense, and make sense for our globe.  Investments in these industries create jobs now and makes us more competitive in the future.  For the many people looking for opportunities these industries provide great directions to look.  Still, they’re left to wonder where the much discussed stimulus money is at.

There are a great many people having a hard time right now and thinking that the green business world may hold just the thing they are looking for.  Unemployment has reached 9.5% and everyone anxious about the economy is eager to grab hold of the next big thing.  While many have heard about all that green has to offer, they are often unsure where they might fit in, where to start, where the money is, and how to connect to it.  Is there a giant pool of green money sitting and waiting to be tapped into?  Is there “Free Money” waiting for you “Everyone approved” as the web ads proclaim?

 Resources like GreenBusinessOwner.com provide the kind of information green business owners need to take advantage of these developing opportunities, including information about planning, marketing, raising money, certification, and many other common questions.  The founder of GreenBusinessOwner.com, Dave Arthur has observed that the visitors to his site are often excited about the prospects of opportunities for green businesses, frustrated in the difficulty in finding opportunities that work for them, and confused about the status of stimulus funds that might help their business.  “There appears to be a common sentiment among many business people that all kinds of money and opportunity is sitting out there in the green economy and that they are missing out on it,” says Arthur.  “In my opinion, there is a hunger for good, practical information.”

 Government action is creating opportunities in many ways, such as action on climate change in the works with the Waxman-Markey Bill that just passed the US House.  The February stimulus package included over $80 billion for renewable energy and energy efficiency (Entrepreneur, March 2009), some of which is now starting to reach the economy.

 The answers are not always simple though, unfortunately.  The money in the stimulus package is not in one large pool, but in several small distinct pools that are being processed and moved forward in different ways. As the money starts to move out to projects, it is moving through specific channels to make sure it meets the requirements and accomplishes the goals of each project.  The movement of federal money will encourage the entry of others back into these markets as well over time.  Some opportunities for green businesses are directly tied to stimulus funds, while other businesses benefit more indirectly, as tax credits and other measures encourage consumers to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

 Among the many measures in the stimulus, some have funding already on the way.  Funding for green job training and summer jobs has already been distributed for some programs.  In Sonoma County, California, the Sonoma County Youth Ecology Corps has been created, for example, creating summer jobs helping the environment for several hundred teenagers.  A variety of training programs in the works funded by the stimulus will help meet the labor demands of the green collar economy.

 The stimulus also includes $3.2 billion in energy efficiency and conservation block grants, with states, cities and counties across the country applying for the funds.  To find out what your city is eligible for, check here.  How this money is spent is up to the cities, counties, and other government entities that receive it, within the guidelines that are provided.  The projects include LED streetlamp installation, energy audits, and other energy efficiency measures.

 The initial deadline to apply for these block grants was June 25, although this deadline was recently extended.  Applicants are supposed to hear back from the Department of Energy within 60 days, at which point they have 120 days to submit a strategy proposal, and the DOE has another 120 days to approve it.  Then the grants can be funded.  Once funded, the money is supposed to be committed within 18 months, and spend within 36 months.  If you’re adding up all those days, it might seem like a long time.  But at least knowing the funding is on its way is giving a boost to governments and businesses to plan on how best to use the money. Look for information from your state or local government about their plans for the block grants - you can see if there is a way your business can participate in the proposed work.

 Tax credits for energy efficiency measures in homes will broadly benefit all businesses that provide relevant products and services, including home energy auditing, and contractors installing eligible efficiency measures.  The full list of measures is available at the Energy Star website, and from this businesses can trace these pools back to their business.  Businesses in some of these fields are starting to see customers realizing the opportunity to save money by investing in energy efficiency, including businesses installing:

        solar hot water heating

        photovoltaic systems

        efficient windows

        small wind turbines

        insulation

        energy efficient HVAC systems. 

 Some of the other stimulus funding targeting the green economy is still getting sorted out.  Loan guarantees and cash grants enacted in the stimulus bill will provide a significant boost for the renewable energy industry once they are fully in place, and the guidelines for these are expected to be released in July.  Some are concerned that it will take too long for funds to become available, while others are concerned that moving $ billions through a system too quickly and without sound controls would create new problems.  “It's critical that we strike the right balance between speed of spending and effectiveness of spending,” says Dan Reicher, Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives at Google.org (Renewable Energy World July 3 2009).

 The good news is that people seeking to find their way through these opportunities and challenges are not on their own.  Resources like Green Business Owner are there to help businesses find the pools and track down how to tap into the channels for their business.  “It's really important to recognize that whenever there's great crisis, that also means there's great opportunity,” says Arthur.  “So it's really a matter of doing your research in your situation, and seeing if you can recognize the opportunity and the gaps and what is needed, and be able to fill those gaps.”

 Stay tuned in the months ahead as more of the stimulus money reaches its green target.

 

Glenn Croston is the author of “75 Green Businesses” and the founder of Starting Up Green, where the Green BizBlast is helping to connect those seeking and providing green products, services, events, opportunities, and information. 

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