Nonprofit offers $160k for sustainable energy solutions




Calling all green energy entrepreneurs: The region’s predominant fund for sustainable energy projects is offering $160,000 in prize money for the best business models and technologies that make it easier to use energy responsibly.

The West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund, in partnership with the statewide Sustainable Energy Fund, announced last week it is soliciting ideas this spring for renewable energy business models and technologies. In a competition dubbed Energy Sprout, all Pennsylvania-based companies, communities and individuals are eligible to put forth their grandest innovations by May 3.

It’s the first time this contest has been launched. 

Up for grabs is a $100,000 first prize for the best submission from a business or individual, and a $25,000 first prize for the best ideas from communities. Second and third place prizes total $25,000 and $3,000 for businesses and individuals, and $5,000 and $3,000 for communities. 

Entries must address challenges with one or more of the three pillars of sustainable energy: renewable energy, energy efficiency or energy conservation. 

“Focusing on these areas will lead to models and technology that are not only better for the environment, but can put money back in the wallets of their users,” said John Costlow, president and CEO of the Sustainable Energy Fund. He said the goal is to keep the contest as broad and open-ended as possible. 

Such projects are poised to grow in the region.

New federal rules aim to slash carbon emissions from power plants and reward investment in energy efficiency and conservation to meet those goals. One clean energy group estimated most carbon cuts will be achieved through more efficient use of energy.

Last month, Congress extended tax credits for the construction of wind farms and the installation of rooftop solar panels, a rebate developers say is critical.

After submission, up to 15 entrants will be invited to make a pre-screening presentation before a judging panel in June 2016. Three entries from both the business pool and the community pool will be selected to present the following month at an annual gathering of energy experts and students hosted by the Sustainable Energy Fund at Penn State University in State College. Awards will be presented at the conference on July 28.

The fund was created after Pennsylvania restructured its power industry by, in part, forcing utilities to sell their power plants to other companies. As part of its long-term restructuring plan approved by the Public Utility Commission, West Penn Power — along with PECO, PPL, Metropolitan Edison, and Penelec — established sustainable energy funds in their settlement process.

During 2014 — the most recent year for which an annual report is available — West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund committed $1.6 million to help fund 17 projects through loans and grants. From 2008 to 2014, it granted 118 funding requests worth more than $20 million.

Joel Morrison, director of West Penn’s fund, said that as sustainable energy technologies have matured in the last 15 years, they have proliferated to a point where a contest is helpful in tapping the newest, best and brightest ideas.

“We want to achieve a critical mass so that sustainable energy can have even deeper roots in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Those interested must fill out an application, found on Energy Sprout’s website at energysprout.org, and submit it by the deadline. The application, with full submission guidelines, can be found here.

Daniel Moore: dmoore@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2743 and Twitter @PGdanielmoore.

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