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Hearing aims to cut energy costs for businesses

Jeff Keeling • Sep 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM

JOHNSON CITY — Opinions varied on how to achieve solutions, but everyone at a congressional field hearing in Johnson City Friday agreed that high energy costs threaten the viability of small businesses.

Congressmen David Davis, R-Tenn., and Heath Shuler, D-N.C., have their own differences on energy policy, but both stressed its importance during the hearing hosted by the Johnson City Power Board.

“We’re here to cross the party lines to do what’s best for America,” Shuler said before the congressmen — both members of the House Committee on Small Business — heard testimony from two businessmen, two academics and a local activist.

Judging by the testimony of Stanley Snowden, who owns several supply-related businesses around Morristown, owners are ready to pursue innovative, energy-saving solutions but need more coordinated resources for finding them. Snowden’s company recently retrofitted the lighting in a 160,000-square-foot warehouse, and he expects to save $50,000 a year in energy costs, but reaching that solution involved a convoluted process.

Even today, Snowden said, he is still trying to get good information about the tax breaks and incentives he can capture for his decision to increase energy efficiency.

“I’m asking that the availability of information be made easier to the average person, because we’re out every day fighting the battles of ... taking care of customers, and if we could find ways to get that information easier and know specifically how to apply that, it benefits all of us,” Snowden said.

The other businessman to testify, John Hutchinson of Powell Construction, outlined the abundance of coal reserves the United States possesses and urged the congressmen to support legislation that encourages clean coal technology and the use of coal.

The other panelists all spoke in favor of measures to help small businesses improve energy efficiency or to expedite the development and use of alternative fuels such as biomass.

Kelly Tiller, a director with the University of Tennessee’s Office of Bioenergy Programs, said the state’s biofuels initiative could potentially bring thousands of small business and farming jobs to rural Tennessee in what she called a “new bioeconomy.”

“The potential for the U.S. farm and forest sector to supply more than a million tons annually of biomass feedstock for a mature cellulosic industry bears significant economic opportunities for the farm businesses, equipment dealers, service providers that would form the backbone of the biomass feedstock supply chain,” Tiller said.

She also said a viable biofuel supply system would be decentralized and create many small business opportunities for refining and transporting the fuel across shorter distances.

Frances Lamberts of the League of Women Voters urged Davis and Shuler to push for more public incentives to help small businesses and individuals increase their energy efficiency. She proposed energy consultant teams that could go to businesses and homes, audit energy usage and suggest ways to improve efficiency.

The congressmen agreed that finding solutions is crucial.

“This is an issue that affects nearly every industry, whether it is a retailer coping with higher energy rates or small trucking companies that are dealing with spiking gasoline prices,” Shuler said. “The increasing cost of energy is making it difficult for small business owners to manage and survive.”

Shuler’s solutions leaned more toward tax breaks and incentives to help small businesses become energy efficient, as well as development of alternative fuels, an area the University of Tennessee is taking a lead in.

Davis, who also voiced support for alternative fuel research, differed from Shuler in calling for increased domestic oil refining capacity and further development of U.S. oil reserves offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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