Jodi Whalen sits next to a humming refrigerator packed with soda at her sandwich shop in downtown Burlington.
Whalen and her husband own two businesses – this one, Stacks Sandwiches, and August First Bakery. So she knows first hand how difficult it can be to control energy costs.
"Restaurants in particular have low profit margins, so you have to be careful with where you put your money," Whalen says. "It’s not like you can turn down the refrigerator to save energy. There are health standards where you have to keep your refrigeration at a certain temperature."
The rising price of energy is one factor that has made the economic recovery sluggish. And as the weather grows colder, it won’t just hit families. Businesses will be hurt as well.
Now, lawmakers in Vermont have introduced a new financing program designed to keep costs down for business owners like Jodi Whalen. Senator Bernie Sanders and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger are touting a new revolving loan program that will allow businesses to work with the city-owned electric department to make energy upgrades – advancements that could save them 15- to 35 percent on energy consumption.
"We are introducing the concept of on-bill financing," Sanders told reporters Mondays.
Under the program, the Burlington Electric Department will provide money to make a business more energy efficient. The business would save money on its electric bill, but not until the loan from the utility is repaid.
Sanders secured a $1-million federal grant last month from the Economic Development Administration to launch the Burlington program.
"Energy efficiency saves money for the consumer. Energy efficiency cuts greenhouse gas emissions in terms of reversing global warming," Sanders said. "So this is a program the federal government should be very aggressive on and we’re looking forward to seeing Burlington becoming a model for this state and this state being a model for the nation."
City officials say businesses would appreciate a way of paying for energy improvements. The Electric Department estimates just 40 percent of the businesses that take the initiative to get an energy audit actually follow through with changes.
As a former business owner himself, Mayor Weinberger says the program is a real game-changer.
"When you are in business, the two things probably in most short supply are time and money," Weinberger said. "What on-bill financing and this million-dollar loan program allow is key assistance to Burlington businesses on both fronts."
Weinberger says he believes the new financing program should meet the needs of many businesses hoping to go green. And he expects more than 150 of them in the next two years to sign up for it and then reap its benefits.