Energy giants support small business

Some women- and minority-owned businesses may soon have their energy bills paid for them.

Two major energy corporations, Dominion Resources and Public Service Enterprise Group, have donated a total of $1.15 million to a program covering energy costs for small businesses owned by women and minorities in Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy announced at a press conference last week. Businesses employing fewer than 50 people located in New London, New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury or Hartford are eligible for the funds and the program will be operational by the beginning of April.

“This is a great example of private industry coming out to support public interest,” Malloy said.

In August 2010, Dominion asked Connecticut-based energy assistance firm Operation Fuel, Inc. to manage the program.

Operation Fuel Executive Officer Patricia Wrice said that the firm could not find any programs in the U.S. to use as a model, adding that this is a pilot program.

Wrice added the firm is in the process of developing strategies to effectively allocate the funds, but they plan to give grants of $500 to $1,000 to around 1,200 businesses.

Dominion agreed to fund the program with the goal of helping struggling businesses to take advantage of more energy-efficient techniques, said Ken Holt, media contact for the Dominion-owned Millstone Power Station in Waterford, Conn.

“Small business is the basis of the economy,” said Holt. “If we can educate the small businesses as to how they can reduce their energy costs and be more successful, we’re helping the overall economy.”

He added Dominion is subsidizing costs for businesses run by women and minorities because research has shown these are the most fragile economically

Wrice said that her firm is conducting a thorough evaluation of all potential fund recipients.

“We are going to work with local trade associations in these communities to make sure that these are legitimate businesses,” Wrice said.

Public Service Enterprise Group, an energy company with plants in both Bridgeport and New Haven, contributed $150,000 to the cause. Wrice added New Haven originally was not included in this initiative, but the second donation secured funds for the city.

Holt said he and his colleagues hope that the Enterprise Group’s donation will encourage other utilities to sign onto the project.

While the program is starting small, Holt said he hopes it will have opportunity to assist a wider range of businesses as it grows.

“As a pilot we want to see how it goes,” Holt said. “We may expand it into other states and make it all small businesses instead of a select group.”

Governor Malloy praised the program’s emphasis on small town enterprise in a press conference last week.

“By helping to defray energy costs for the recipients of these grants, we can help small business owners continue to operate within their local communities,” Malloy said.

According to a 2002 census, minority-owned businesses made up 7.2 percent of those in Connecticut.

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