A new program to help New Haven companies reduce their energy costs is on track to dole out over $100,000 in grants to city small businesses.
With its initiative “Project/BEST,” private Connecticut-based nonprofit Operation Fuel has partnered with two utilities companies — Dominion Resources, Inc. of Virginia and Public Service Enterprise Group of New Jersey — to distribute $1,000 grants and run training sessions that promote energy efficiency. The initiative, which lasts through March 2, follows one in Hartford, in which 213 businesses received a total of $213,000.
“Small businesses are the most energy-inefficient ones and are more likely to have older light bulb fixtures, freezer units and so on,” said Bob Slate, Operation Fuel’s small business advocate. “We want our businesses to be sustainable both economically and environmentally and to learn about efficiency improvements that will lead to long-term savings.”
The workshops will educate business owners about how to become more energy efficient at a low cost, as well as how best to find low-interest loans for those improvements, Slate said.
Operation Fuel has previously aided individuals and families with their energy bills, and Project/BEST now extends their efforts to businesses.
“As much as we’re focused on helping residents, we also know that it’s important to help the businesses where those people work and the businesses where they shop,” Slate said.
Dominion Resources, Inc. and Public Service Enterprise Group contributed $1 million and $150,000 towards the funds, respectively. Representatives from both companies could not be reached for comment.
Three owners of businesses in New Haven lauded the program, saying they would now be able to use the money for other aspects of their businesses. Claire Criscuolo of Claire’s Corner Copia on Chapel Street said the money she would have spent on utilities will help fund healthcare benefits for her workers.
“This program is especially helpful for businesses like us who already try to do the right thing,” said Criscuolo, who added that small businesses often have to make difficult choices regarding how to use their funds. “Unlike the federal government, we can’t just spend money.”
Business owners described the grant’s one-page application as simple and short. Its primary purpose is to ensure that businesses meet eligibility requirements, Slate said, adding that the program especially encourages women and minorities who own businesses to apply. As of Friday, about 95 percent of roughly 100 applications from New Haven business owners were approved, he said.
Marie Gallo, owner of Gallo Appliance on State Street, said that the hardest part of the application process was “just looking up my account number.”
To express her appreciation for the initiative, Paula Lupi of West Village Opticians on Whalley Avenue said she wrote a cover letter for her application — even though it was not required. With the new funding, Lupi will be able to put more money into new stock and digitizing her business operations, she said.
Following the program’s run in Hartford, Operation Fuel began accepting applications in New Haven — its second city — on Jan. 1. Programs in New London and Waterbury will begin on Feb. 1 and run through March 20, followed by Project/BEST’s fifth and final city, Bridgeport, whose program will run from March 1 through April 20.
Non-profit organizations and home businesses are ineligible for the current grants, though Slate said Operation Fuel is looking to expand the project’s scope.