Light It Up

Just turning the lights on every day sucks up to 50 percent of a business' electricity consumption, meaning big dollars are lighting that lobby.

Michigan Saves aims to change that to pennies.

The Michigan Saves program has helped homeowners finance energy efficiency improvements since 2010 and now is available for businesses. The program features low-interest financing for energy efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems, insulation, refrigeration and other equipment.

Launched by Gov. Rick Snyder in November, the goal is for businesses to "use those funds to hire more workers, expand their product lines, expand operations, and really drive the economy," said Julie Metty Bennett, executive director of Michigan Saves, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Lansing.

The program is expected to use about $50 million to initially assist 1,000 businesses, thereafter working with about 250 businesses a year.

The financing ranges from $2,000 to $150,000 and is in the form of equipment leases provided through Ervin Leasing Co., a national equipment lease and finance company headquartered in Ann Arbor. The Bank of Ann Arbor provides the capital backing the leases.

Metty Bennett said the program can help businesses make improvements they otherwise might forgo because of high up-front costs associated with some upgrades. Financing is structured so that the utility-bill savings are equal to or greater than the monthly payments.

Locally, the Michigan Land Use Institute and SEEDS are helping businesses take advantage.

"The Michigan Land Use Institute and SEEDS will be working hand-in-hand to develop the leads [in the 10-county region], and do technical assistance to help businesses take advantage of what Michigan Saves is offering," said Brian Beauchamp, energy program manager at the Land Use Institute.

Businesses interested in financing must use Michigan Saves-authorized contractors, a list of which is available at Applicants submit an online form or apply directly through an authorized contractor.

Mike Powers, project manager with SEEDS energy and environmental analysis, said the organization will help market the program, and will also get more local contractors enrolled.

Powers said SEEDS also can provide some technical support to businesses, like an energy assessment that might help them identify where they might make improvements.

"Companies oftentimes overlook the small opportunities that really do add up," he said. "We help to quantify that for them."

When approved, companies can lease-to-own equipment with financing terms of two to five years, at interest rates that begin at 5.9 percent.

The food industry, known for its high-energy consumption, can access more attractive rates and bonuses, Metty Bennett said. Restaurants, convenience and grocery stores and food wholesalers may get interest rates of 3.99 percent, receiving a $2,000 bonus for cutting energy consumption by 20 percent. (To receive the $2,000, the businesses need first to have an energy audit that will enable them to identify energy savings opportunities, and then select appropriate measures.)

Beauchamp said retail food businesses will be a focus of the Land Use Institute's outreach efforts.

Overall, though, the Michigan Saves program is available for any buildings and properties owned or occupied by businesses or nonprofit organizations, subject to credit review and approval by Ervin Leasing.

Amy Lane is a former reporter for Crain's Detroit Business, where she covered energy and utilities, state government and business for nearly 25 years.