Small businesses in clean energy sector still hope for best

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Posted: Jun 07, 2017 11:38 AM
Small businesses in clean energy sector still hope for best

NEW YORK (AP) — Small business owners who install solar panels or help customers use clean energy don't seem fazed by President Donald Trump's plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, saying they expect demand for their services will still keep growing.

They're confident in two trends they see: A growing awareness and concern about the environment, and a desire by consumers and businesses to lower their energy costs.

"It's an economic decision people are making, although it also makes environmental sense," says Suvi Sharma, CEO of Solaria, a Fremont, California-based company that designs and sells solar energy panel systems.

Trump said he was putting U.S. interests ahead of international priorities in leaving the agreement that would, among other things, require the U.S. and other countries to report greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. is the world's second-emitter of carbon after China, and carbon is one of the gases that scientists cite as a key factor in global warming.

Many of the nation's largest companies opposed Trump's move, and some have already committed to reducing emissions and are spending billions to do it.

Small business advocacy groups are split over the impact of a U.S. withdrawal. The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council doesn't believe Trump's action will hurt the United States.

"Even without the U.S.'s formal participation in the pact, we believe our nation will continue to lead in carbon reduction and clean energy," says Karen Kerrigan, CEO of the group. "The market is demanding as much and the private sector and investment are responding."

But the Small Business Majority, which has supported limits on greenhouse gas emissions as a way to help the environment and the economy, said the U.S. needs government policies that "promote the development of renewable energy and the implementation of energy efficiency standards."

"America's entrepreneurs understand that the future of our economy and the job growth associated therewith depends upon policies that move us forward, not backward," says John Arensmeyer, the group's CEO.

The American Sustainable Business Council also warned that global warming would hurt companies, giving them "a chaotic and unsustainable future of business disruptions from rising seas and changing weather patterns."

Whether business owners outside energy-related industries are likely to support the Paris accord may depend on how much they're worried about climate change, and whether they're concerned about saving on energy bills.

A private equity firm that invests in clean energy companies doesn't expect Trump's action to have much impact on U.S. companies whose business is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Neil Auerbach, CEO of Hudson Clean Energy in Teaneck, New Jersey, said the U.S. has been able to move away from carbon fuels with more use of natural gas and renewables.

Arcadia Power, which helps consumers and companies switch to wind and solar power for their electricity, has seen orders rise 5 percent from its usual pace since Trump's announcement last week, says Ryan Nesbitt, president of the Washington, D.C.-based company. Demand was particularly strong for the electricity supply plans the company offers through solar power producers.

"They sold out over the weekend. We're scrambling to get more," Nesbitt says. Some customers who signed up for Arcadia's service said they were doing so in response to Trump's announcement, Nesbitt says.

State and local environmental laws, which can be tougher than federal statutes and regulations, have contributed to the growth of small businesses in the energy sector. So companies that help businesses track and report their carbon and other emissions shouldn't see their business disappear if the U.S. isn't part of the Paris accord.

At ERA Environmental Management Solutions, whose customers include companies that use paints and other chemicals, "nobody's coming out and telling us they're going to stop doing a project," owner Gary Vegh says.

But Vegh, whose company is based in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, says companies are also reacting to changing perspectives.

"Each generation is getting more educated about the environment," Vegh says. "Even preschool and elementary children — the new generation is already aware."

Barry Cinnamon's homeowner customers buy solar panels because they believe the climate is in trouble. "They understand from a science and engineering perspective that there's a problem and there's a solution," says Cinnamon, the owner of Cinnamon Solar in Campbell, California.

Installing solar panels on a home can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, so owners aren't expecting an immediate windfall from lower energy prices — they're willing to wait five or 10 years for their investment to pay off, Cinnamon says.

For some owners, it's the "what ifs" that are worrisome. Many business customers at Vitaliy Vinogradov's lighting business base their buying decisions on tax rebates for green LED fixtures.

"What I am afraid of is that this may be a slippery slope — where eventually green technology loses subsidies, rebates, or gets taxed," says Vinogradov, whose Modern Place Lighting is located in Pensacola, Florida.

Saagar Govil, CEO of Cemtrex Inc., an environmental technology company, fears it will lose business in the U.S. because there may be less need for his equipment that monitors and destroys greenhouse gases. He hopes the Farmingdale, New York-based company will be able to sell those products overseas, and in states that have pledged to follow the Paris accord.

"But until we start to see something concrete, it's unclear how that will fly," he says.

Some business owners, however, think Trump's action will ultimately help their companies. John-Paul Maxfield, whose Denver-based Waste Farmers sells agricultural products and technology to greenhouse operators, believes it will raise awareness of global warming.

"It reinforces the need for alternative systems in the face of climate change," Maxfield says.

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Follow Joyce Rosenberg at www.twitter.com/JoyceMRosenberg. Her work can be found here: http://bigstory.ap.org/content/joyce-m-rosenberg