Earlier this summer, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan designed to use executive authority to spur reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across the public, private and consumer sectors. While some large corporations, such as Nike and Wal-Mart, have publicly expressed their support for the plan, some trepidation remains among other private sector actors. Notably, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade recently heard testimony from small business owners that were concerned that the plan could lead to higher energy and regulatory costs.
Only time will tell how the Plan will affect the climate and the economy. However, there are several elements that have the potential to create meaningful opportunities for US businesses of all sizes.
Below are 5 opportunities for the US business sector in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.
1. Loans for Energy Efficiency and Renewables
Originally authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, the USDA supports energy efficiency improvements in rural areas through its Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program. This program provides federally insured loans to rural electricity providers, who in turn finance loans for energy efficiency improvements for businesses and homeowners within their territories. As outlined in the Plan, starting this fall, the USDA will provide up to $250 million a year to support this program.
By taking advantage of the low, federally insured interest rates available through this program, small and medium-sized businesses in rural areas will be able to afford the cost-cutting benefits associated with installing the latest in energy efficiency and conservation technologies. As an additional benefit to rural businesses, the USDA will use a portion of its funds to make grants and loan guarantees for energy efficiency and renewable energy systems directly to small businesses and farmers, completely bypassing the local utility company. This could significantly streamline the process and result in more money flowing into the hands of small businesses faster.
2. Promoting Renewable Energy
The growth of renewable energy capacity in the US in recent years has been explosive. According to the Department of Interior, permits for over 12 gigawatts of renewable energy on federal land have been issued since 2009. The Plan calls for a near doubling of that amount by adding an additional 10 gigawatts of permits by 2020. Furthermore, the President endeavors to more than double the proportion of renewable energy that powers the federal government – from 7.5% today to 20% in 2020.
This presents a tremendous opportunity for US renewable energy manufacturers and service providers. In fact, many US businesses have already benefited from the boom in the renewables sector here in the US. For example, in 2012 over 13 gigawatts of new wind energy was added to the US energy mix. The Department of Energy estimates that nearly three-quarters of those new wind turbines were made in the USA. US businesses have proven that they have the skills and resources to power a clean energy revolution. The President’s Climate Action Plan may give those businesses even more opportunity to do so.
3. Cutting Red Tape
Despite the best intentions, quality government programs are often mired in red tape, making it complicated and expensive for businesses to take advantage. Focusing first on upgrades to the electric grid and infrastructure improvements, the Plan envisions streamlined application and review processes so that federal funds for these critical projects can flow more quickly and efficiently. Engineering, construction, and waste management companies are among the businesses most likely to directly benefit from these projects.
4. Increasing Access to Information
In our digitally optimized society, data is king. Businesses ranging from tech giants in Silicon Valley to your neighborhood grocer have discovered that effectively crunching numbers has the ability to supercharge profits. But in order to take full advantage, businesses need to first get their hands on the right data.
Building on his May Executive Order on Open Data, the President proposes a Climate Data Initiative intended to allow the private sector to access federally captured climate data. With keys to the government’s extensive vault of climate data, established businesses and entrepreneurs alike will have greater means to develop the technologies and innovations to supply an economy hungry for clean energy solutions.
5. Free Trade for CleanTech
Long before Washington began seriously focusing on climate, American companies had already begun developing the technologies necessary to fuel a clean energy revolution. The deployment of this cleantech is slowly gaining steam within the US, and with time, more clean energy innovations will be ready for overseas markets. Preparing for the inevitable, the Administration plans to launch World Trade Organization negotiations to reduce barriers of trade in environmental goods and services. According to the report, a similar trade agreement has already been struck with Asian-Pacific countries. Elevating this issue to the global level has the potential of allowing more US cleantech businesses to extend their reach by tapping into markets around the world.
The road to a carbon neutral economy is a long one. As the US begins to chart its course, it is important that growing businesses remain vigilant of opportunities to thrive in a low-carbon marketplace. Capitalizing on shifts in the landscape, such as the President’s Climate Action Plan, can maintain your relevance in the economy of tomorrow and also help keep your business one step ahead of the competition.
If you want to learn how to implement clean energy and energy efficiency solutions in line with the President’s climate action plan, browse CleanEdison’s list of hands-on clean energy training courses