Bill to help small businesses go green advances

* Would allow funding for audits, equipment for small business

Democratic legislators are supporting a bill that will help small businesses go green.

The legislation, which was advanced by an Assembly panel earlier this month, would allow small companies to qualify for New Jersey Economic Development Authority loans that would cover the costs of conducting energy audits and improving energy efficiency.

The measure would allow the NJEDA, in conjunction with the Department of Community Affairs and the Board of Public Utilities, to establish and administer low-interest loans to small businesses. The loans would cover any unreimbursed costs for an energy audit conducted by a licensed contractor as well as expenses for the purchase and installation of equipment considered necessary from the audit.

A low-interest loan, as defined by the bill, is one with maximum 10-year term at a maximum rate of 3 percent, or half of the prime interest rate reported in a financial newspaper published and circulating in New York City, whichever is greater.

According to a fiscal estimate submitted on Jan 23, the bill does not establish a funding source for the loan program or establish its overall size. The Office of Legislative Services said major fiscal components of the bill are up to the discretion of the NJEDA.

The statement also adds that credit standards for loan recipients have not been determined.

The bill was released after a vote by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Feb. 5.

Assemblyman Gary S. Schaer, D-Passaic, was one of six on the committee who voted for it.

"It was a win-win," Schaer said in a phone interview, saying the measure helps the environment and small businesses. "It will not cost taxpayers anything," he said.

The legislation would be a way for small businesses to streamline their expenses, said Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, a sponsor of the bill.

Singleton said that in conversations with business owners in Burlington County, "one of the issues they raised is the increase of the cost of energy," and he pointed out that these costs sometimes force businesses to relocate or prevent them from expanding operations or making new hires.

For Vincent Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, another sponsor of the bill, energy costs are one of the largest expenditures at his small business, B.F. Mazzeo, a grocery store in Northfield. He said his business, which uses a large number of refrigerators, could benefit from the bill's financial assistance by helping him transition his equipment to energy-efficient methods, leading to reduced operating costs.

Other primary sponsors of the bill are Herb Conaway Jr., D-Burlington; Paul Moriarty, D-Camden/Gloucester; Jerry Green, D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union; and Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden/Burlington.

So far, Assemblywoman Amy H. Handlin of Red Bank is the only Republican backing the bill.

According to Singleton, the measure may be up for consideration as soon as Monday.


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