Hunt for project funding easier with Energy Services

Money—where to get it, how best to spend it, where to find more—is a topic very much on people’s minds, whether their needs are personal or strictly business. Utilities face those same questions, but unlike individuals and other organizations, they can ask Energy Services for guidance. A large part of our service is networking with state and federal agencies, trade associations and nonprofits to track down funding opportunities Western customers can use to launch programs or upgrade facilities.

Makeover time
Take the city of White, S.D.Redirecting to a non-government site, for example, and its 40-year-old community center. “We would like to get rid of the paneling, remodel the kitchen and reconfigure the office space,” explained Finance Officer Melanie Haber.

The city of White, S.D., is investigating grants available for upgrading its community center. Municipalities have many options for funding energy-efficiency retrofits to public buildings, but sometimes it is necessary to think outside the box. (Photo by the City of White, S.D.)
The city of White, S.D., is investigating grants available for upgrading its community center. Municipalities have many options for funding energy-efficiency retrofits to public buildings, but sometimes it is necessary to think outside the box. (Photo by the City of White, S.D.)

She added that the fluorescent lighting throughout the building is poor quality, especially in the big hall where most events are held. Replacing the five furnaces heating the multi-use facility with one central system and zoned controls could help to reduce operating costs and improve comfort. In short, “It needs a complete update, inside and out,” Haber admitted.

Only the beginning
The community center project is still in the planning stages, so Haber has only done preliminary research into funding sources. “We can’t apply for a grant until we have specifics about what we want to do to the building and what that is likely to cost,” she said.

Heartland Consumers Power DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site, the city’s wholesale cooperative, offers incentives for commercial lighting upgrades, heating and cooling system retrofits and efficient appliances. The systems that would be installed in the community center would be subject to Heartland’s as-yet-unpublished 2014 rebate menu, however.

The South Dakota Office of Economic DevelopmentRedirecting to a non-government site might also be a source of low-interest loans for the project, Haber noted. “We have reached out to the regional office, but again, we don’t know what programs the project might be eligible for until we have more details,” she said.

No stone unturned
In addition to investigating loan and rebate programs, Haber also contacted Marsha Thomas, Western’s Upper Great Plains Energy Services representative for more ideas about potential funding sources. Thomas, in turn, decided to “crowdsource” Haber’s question with other Energy Services staff. “The great thing about having an Energy Services representative in each region is that we all bring a different background and perspective to the job,” said Thomas. “Any one of us can tap that collective experience to find answers for our customers.”

Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman observed that Haber is off to a solid start in her search for funding. “Check with your generation and transmission provider first,” he advised. “They understand your load in the context of the community and local climate, and they have a vested interest in helping their members manage their demand.”

Here are some other recommendations municipalities might consider for securing funding:

  1. Assemble a list of stakeholders on the project and brainstorm with them to come up with a list of potential sources. Your colleagues and neighbors may surprise you with their resourcefulness and innovative thinking.
  2. If the city participates in the American Public Power Association (APPA) Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency DevelopmentsRedirecting to a non-government site (DEED) program, it may be eligible for a DEED scholarship or grant. Contact APPA for more information and eligibility requirements.
  3. Don’t stop with your state’s economic development office. Check with the state energy office, parks and recreation department, education department and public health office to learn about their grant opportunities. Projects that address the goals of more than one state (or federal) agency often have a better chance of receiving funding.
  4. County governments also offer economic development grants or loans, or serve as pass-through agencies for federal monies. Private businesses and nonprofit agencies frequently collaborate with counties to set up revolving loan funds for projects that benefit communities.
  5. Inquire with your local and state chamber of commerce about grant opportunities they may offer or be aware of.
  6. Hire a grant writer. This professional knows how to speak the language of funders and how to highlight the facets of the project that appeal to them. Grant writers who specialize in a specific field or type of project also keep up with the funding agencies and opportunities pertaining to their specialties.
  7. Seek donations from individuals or service clubs in the community. Supporting energy efficiency in public buildings today can help keep taxes and fees down tomorrow. Donating also gives residents ownership in the success of the project and a feeling of civic pride.

Ultimately, more projects are hobbled by a lack of imagination than a lack of funding, Horstman insisted. “Make the effort to think outside the box, and you may discover financing options that would never have occurred to you otherwise,” he said. “You may even improve on the efficiency and functionality of your original plan if you stay open to creative thinking.”

Good luck!
Energy Services wishes White, S.D., and all our customers the best of luck in developing the modern, efficient facilities their communities need to remain vibrant and healthy. More than that, we are always sharing ideas to accomplish that goal through our website, blog and our representatives.

Most of all, we urge you, our customers, to share your experiences with each other. Contact your peers directly through Energy Services Bulletin stories, send them to the editor or give us your two cents’ worth in the comments below.