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Small-business energy loans on the way

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A city-funded loan program to cover part of businesses' electric bills may be in place by the end of this week - though businesses will have to be denied a conventional bank loan before they are eligible.

The Juneau Economic Development Council, a city-funded private nonprofit, is administering the loan program on the city's behalf. The Juneau Assembly set aside $500,000 to help needy businesses.

Together, Juneau's small businesses will owe about $4 million more than last month on their bills starting May 16, said Brian Holst, executive director of JEDC.

High bills will pay to power the city on diesel fuel, which has reached record high prices lately. Juneau's major source of hydroelectric power, cut off by avalanches, is scheduled to be back online in mid-June at the earliest, according to Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. spokesman Scott Willis.

City Manager Rod Swope said he didn't have a handle on how many people needed or would apply for the loans.

"We're just in a wait and see mode," Swope said.

Holst said he received phone calls from business owners worried the rate hike might shut them down, but he too was unsure what to expect.

"All of that is very emotional and anecdotal at this point," he said.

Holst said businesses may lose sales indirectly, since customers will have their own electric bills to pay. But the funds available are intended only for the most direct burden: the bill itself.

The loan program is now entirely funded by the city, but it could expand if Juneau sees federal dollars from the Small Business Administration for economic injury from the avalanche.

"If they're not available, then $500,000 will really fall short of what people need," Holst said.

Holst worked with Swope and Assembly members to come up with terms on the loans, which apply only to businesses that pay small commercial electric rates. Large businesses, government and homeowners will not be eligible.

A business must have a state business license as of April 15 to apply. It also must be in good standing with the city on property and sales taxes.

The owner must submit to JEDC the high electric bill and a letter from a bank denying a conventional loan for a similar amount.

If the business is approved, JEDC will pay AEL&P half of the cost of power adjustment on the bill, up to $10,000.

Once a business is in the program, JEDC will continue to pay part of the bill until either the limit is reached, JEDC's money runs out, or the electric bills go back down.

Repayment will begin only after the bills go down again. JEDC will charge 3 percent interest.

For more information, contact JEDC at 523-2300. JEDC has other information on dealing with high energy prices at its Web site: www.jedc.org/electricity.htm.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or e-mail kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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