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Create jobs through energy savings

Twenty-five companies from across the state have been awarded federal funding totaling more than $5 million for energy-efficiency projects, all in the name of job creation and retention. It may sound strange, but the premise behind the program is turn off a light, save a job.

Earlier this month, the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) announced the round-one awardees under the $10-million Mississippi Job Protection through Energy Economic Development Program. A part of the $40.4-million State Energy Program (SEP) and funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the program’s aim is to assist companies in cutting their energy costs through system upgrades and improvements, money that can then be used to retain or create jobs.

“As Mississippi strives to become more energy efficient and energy independent, we are seeking innovative ways to reduce energy consumption and spur economic growth,” said Gray Swoope, executive director of the MDA. “ARRA funding through the Mississippi Job Protection through Energy Economic Development Program provides Mississippi companies with the support they need to be more energy efficient, thus reducing operating costs. This leads to stabilizing current employment levels and, ultimately, will create new job.”

The awards ranged from $21,885 to Mid-Delta Home Health Inc. in Belzoni to $500,000 to Laurel Machine & Foundry Company in Laurel. According to the MDA, the companies awarded the $5.2 million in round-one funding will see a total of nearly $3 million annually in energy savings.

Under the program, eligible companies will be able to install energy efficiency upgrades and retrofits, such as lighting, HVAC, industrial systems and other items, yielding significant energy and cost savings. Grantees represent a cross-section of Mississippi’s business community: small businesses, large manufacturers and minority, woman-owned and veteran-owned firms from around the state.

Laurel Machine & Foundry will use its funds to purchase and install a new, 1,500-kilowatt power unit and two, 6,000-pound furnaces to replace its current melt equipment, which was originally purchased in 1979.

Trent Mulloy, president of Laurel Machine & Foundry, said calculations show a savings of approximately $85,000 annually from the equipment upgrades.

Viking Range Corporation in Greenwood received $450,000, which it will use to upgrade the HVAC and lighting system in its 250,000-square-foot cooking products plant. Bill Crump, director of governmental affairs and executive assistant to the president at Viking Range, said the plant is the company’s oldest, and has undergone two expansions over its history. Crump said the plant’s HVAC and lighting systems are outdated and costing the company money. Company estimates, which Crump called conservative, have Viking saving approximately $50,000 annually in energy costs.

The MDA has not yet set the date for round-two awards. MDA said it expects to announce the round-two application process in early 2010.

MDA spokesperson Sally Stackhouse Williams said the state’s lead economic development organization was pleased with the response to the program. MDA received a total of 78 applications.

Those 53 companies that did not qualify for round-one financing will be able to apply in round two. New applicants will also be eligible for awards.

Awardees said the application process was fairly simple. Crump said the most labor-intensive part of the application process was the required energy audit. Viking and the other awardees were preparing for a MDA-led seminar this week that will help guide grant winners in implementing the energy-efficiency projects.

And, the MDA is forging ahead with the rest of SEP’s efforts. In addition to the Mississippi Job Protection through Energy Economic Development Program, the state’s SEP funds have been divided into three broad categories. They are:

• Energy Efficient Public Buildings — MDA will implement several programs designed to reduce energy consumption and costs for public buildings at the state and local levels through a variety of programs. This program’s allocation is $17 million.

• Market Transformation and Technology Deployment — MDA will award grants on a competitive basis for demonstration projects related to renewable energy production, smart metering, transportation and workforce development programs. This program’s allocation is $10 million.

•  Administration — These funds will cover implementation costs as well as assist public and private entities in performing energy audits to better manage their energy consumption. In addition, this program will fund outreach to the community, classroom programs, workshops and energy efficiency awareness. This program’s allocation is $3.418 million.

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