Tapping the Federal Government for Renewables

The bottom line to providers of clean energy is that Uncle Sam is the largest owner of buildings in the world and the largest user of energy in the world. So when this national consumer makes energy decisions, state and local governments follow, and the private markets then follow. That’s the good news.

RE Insider – November 17, 2003 – The bad news is that the federal government is composed of more agencies, administrations, and entities than all the goodies in Pandora’s Box and finding your way through this maze, even for the most seasoned player, can be as tough as any trial described in the Iliad and the Odyssey. With that said, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Where Do I Get Information? First, federal agencies issue formal requests for proposals either through announcements via The Commerce Business Daily (the formal government link to industry), the particular federal agency procurement web sites, and through special e-mail list serves composed of those companies who have previously provided products or have expressed interest to provide products or services. Second, the Department of Energy (DOE) is legislatively charged to coordinate federal procurement policies and information through its Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), and other agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Defense (DOD), and the Department of Interior (DOI) also have ongoing clean energy procurement activities and information links. Just use the agency acronym: www. _ _ _ .gov. But the best way to learn of potential procurements is to continuously interact with federal procurement decision makers both in Washington, D.C., in the federal regional offices, and at the sites where purchases will be located, ie: parks, military bases, etc. What Do I Need to Do? The first step is to have professional, printed materials for each product or service you offer. The more professional, with pictures of actual installations or listing of customers, is essential. If your company has been in the marketplace five years or longer, and the marketing material is professional and without spelling errors, getting listed and receiving assistance is assured. The second step is to send news articles, pictures or thank you letters from government customers (federal, state and local) on your installation or service. This provides assurance to potential purchasers of your technology or service and inspires confidence. The third step is to get your company products or services listed in agency procurement databases, the most well known are the General Services Administration (GSA) or and particular DOD service (Air Force, Army, Navy). This takes time and determination but stay focused. The fourth step is to interface with your procurement officials through government-sponsored conferences and shows, public meetings, and personal appointments. Focus on an agency market niche that you have already entered. For instance, many companies particularly in the solar and wind industries have developed good business with the National Park Service where remote power and low noise and no emissions are considered critical assets. Agencies Worth Concentrating On There is no single approach or “absolute truth” on how to approach this market. But I will name my top five suggestions that are gems for the clean energy industries: Agriculture – while USDA has a new renewable energy program that puts out Requests for Proposals (RFP), the best program is the US$200 million window opened by the Rural Utility Service (RUS) that provides loans to rural electric and telephone cooperatives. The new RUS Administrator is bullish on renewables and loans have been flowing in FY-03. The other lending program within USDA is the Farmers Home Loan Program (FmHA) which has not opened up to renewables yet, but can provide long term, low interest loans to farmers, agricultural businesses and food and animal processors. Defense – The procurement possibilities and activities are so broad-based and disparate that it is hard to describe fully in this article, US military bases are looking to “harden” their critical functions and have back up and potentially portable power. Overseas bases are doing the same. Specialized initiatives to enhance soldier, ship and facility energy are ongoing from research (DARPA) to DOD central, many with special teams run by large Defense Subcontractors such as Raytheon, and others. Entry to these programs needs to be very professional and not ad-hoc. Attending DOD-sponsored meetings and vendor shows in related fields or industries is probably the best entry point for newcomers in this procurement area. Interior – the Interior Secretary Gale Norton, has become point person for The Administration on opening up federal lands for clean energy installations. Under the Department of Interior is the Park Service and certain functions of the Forest Service. This agency is front and center to use clean energy and distributed generation. State – The State Department is on a continuing move to make our overseas Embassies and facilities more terrorist resistant as well as less vulnerable to power disruptions. The Engineering Office is the center point for this activity. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) controls foreign aid, but the procurement decisions are not made in Washington, D.C. but through the overseas USAID Missions within country government support. This takes effort but many US companies in the renewable field have made progress and are selling products and services via these international programs. State-based programs (DOE, EPA) – The Department of Energy (Efficiency RD&D Program funded by Interior Appropriations) and The Environmental Protection Agency (funded by HUD-Independent Agency Appropriations) has discreet programs that send funds to State governments to carry out clean energy activities. These programs include demonstration projects and cost-shared installations. Best to work through your state energy or environmental office to access these resources. Finally, take advantage of the US export assistance programs at the US Export Import Bank (ExIm), Trade Development Administration (TDA), Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the US Department of Commerce (International Trade Administration). These agencies, entities and programs can provide financing to your dealers and customers, political risk insurance to protect against losses beyond you or your customers’ control, and even pre-feasibility studies (a necessary precursor for attracting financing). Conclusion The government market is worth considering. Do not even show up to meet government procurement officials without professional materials, glossy pictures and letters (not e-mails) from satisfied government customers. A bad first impression closes the door. The same rules apply for the federal sector as marketing to the private sector: Do not be shy. Focus on niches. Develop as professional a marketing packet as possible. Mingle. And have patience. And my parting advise is “don’t procrastinate” because the time is right. Don’t miss the boat and be ready to provide standardized products with service contracts and ongoing technical support. If you make the effort, the federal market will respond. About the author… Scott Sklar is founder of The Stella Group, Ltd.(Washington, D.C.) which is a strategic marketing and policy firm for distributed generation. He served for 15 years as Executive Director concurrently of the Solar Energy Industries Association and the National BioEnergy Industries Association in Washington, D.C. He lives in a solar home in Arlington, Virginia and his coauthored book, A Consumer Guide to Solar Energy, has just been re-released for its third printing. Scott Sklar can be reached at solarsklar@aol.com.
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