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Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill last night that would provide emergency energy relief for small businesses. The measure included an amendment for cogeneration offered by U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

The Small Business Energy Emergency Relief Act of 2001, S. 295, would provide emergency relief to small businesses negatively affected by price increases in heating oil, propane, kerosene or natural gas. The relief would come through affordable, low-interest Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster loans that would give affected small businesses the working capital they need until they can resume normal working operations.

"The rise in cost for these fuels has put a burden on the financial resources of small businesses. This can be especially crippling to small businesses that are dependent upon these fuels for sale or distribution. We need to help small businesses avoid such serious losses," said Enzi. "When businesses are forced to raise prices this puts consumers, especially seniors on fixed incomes, in a real bind. They are forced to pay more for their own energy needs and increased goods and services costs on top of that. I hope these loans will help keep products affordable."

Included in the bill is a provision that allows businesses to use the loans to convert from the use of heating fuel or electricity to a renewable or alternative energy source including agriculture and urban waste, geothermal, solar and wind energy. An amendment by Enzi adds cogeneration to the list.

"I believe cogeneration could benefit areas of Wyoming such as the Bighorn Basin. Sugar beet refining takes a lot of energy and we know how energy prices have shot up. With cogeneration refineries could be re-engineered to use the heat already produced to make electricity. Then they can sell the electricity to reduce their overall costs," said Enzi. "I am very pleased that we were able to get this in a bill and passed by the Senate within weeks of first hearing about the idea from Worland area sugar beet grower Dick McKamey. This is another example of common sense ideas from Wyoming making their way to Washington."

A cogeneration facility expands upon the uses of the generation of steam during energy production taking it to the next level. The facility uses an energy source such as coal or agricultural byproducts to produce electric energy and steam. Instead of simply allowing the steam to escape, it is captured and used for other industrial, commercial, heating or cooling purposes. This is one more option that will allow Wyoming industries to get the best use of their limited energy dollars.

Requirements for receiving assistance will be determined by a declaration of a disaster by the President, the SBA Administrator or by certification from the governor of a state whose small businesses have suffered an economic injury and are in need of assistance that is not otherwise available.

According to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, implementing the program will be about $51 million over the 2002-2006 period. Businesses are limited to no more than $1.5 million in loan money unless they are considered to be a major source of employment for the business' surrounding area.

The bill must still be considered by the House and signed by the President before becoming law.