Small-business Advice: Save Energy, Save Money

Last year, the government’s Cash for Clunkers program got plenty of attention for giving individuals financial incentives to trade in gas guzzlers in exchange for newer, more fuel-efficient replacements.

Cash for Clunkers was then followed […] in many parts of the country by other programs that promoted energy efficiency by giving rebates that encourag[ed] consumers to upgrade from old appliances to more efficient Energy Star-rated models.

Why should [the] government support efficiency programs? The idea is that everyone wins when the government helps consumers trade up to newer models of cars or appliances. Consumers get lower electric or fuel bills. Manufacturers are able to move products that would otherwise be harder to sell in the current economic climate. Governments benefit in a couple of ways—if manufacturers can stay in business, the government has fewer unemployed people to support, and if overall energy or fuel usage declines, the government feels less pressure to build new power plants or fuel refineries.

So how does all of this help small businesses? Well, as a recent article in the Small Business Trends blog pointed out, businesses, too, can benefit from government support for energy-efficiency upgrades. The article highlights benefits in several states, including California, where Pacific Gas & Electric Co. offers rebates of $10 to $125 for installing high-efficiency lightbulbs, and Indiana, where Duke Energy gives small businesses up to $50,000 in annual rebates for high-efficiency improvements to HVAC-type systems.

Even if a power company won’t subsidize the actual cost of upgrades, it might still help businesses figure out how to make improvements. That’s what Minnesota’s Xcel Energy does by covering most of the cost of heating-optimization studies.

The important thing for small businesses is to check for special offers and promotions in your state, city or local community. For instance, small-business owners in Austin, Texas, not only qualify for a general commercial rebate, but also an additional special 30% bonus rebate, plus a lighting program that covers up to 70% of installed costs.

Other small-business energy-efficiency grant and rebate programs exist around the country, from Pennsylvania to Arizona, where the state subsidizes up to 90% of incremental measure costs.

Rather than hunting all over the Internet, you can save yourself time and energy by using the handy guide from that provides links to state and local energy efficiency programs for small businesses.

And remember—in addition to upfront savings from rebates or other forms of assistance from government and utilities, any energy-efficiency improvements you make to your business should end up helping your bottom line by reducing recurring expenses.

If you really go all out and achieve superior efficiency to the point where you’re powering your business with solar or wind energy, your efficiency could even become a marketing point among green-minded consumers. It’s a message that has worked for businesses from New Belgium Brewing to Horizon Organic.

Has your small business benefited from any government- or utility-sponsored energy-efficiency program? Or have you seen bottom-line savings from energy-efficiency improvements?

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