Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments

Tri-County Small Business Efficiency Program

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Lewis and Clark County, Montana

Federal Funding: $305,000
Project Timeline: February 2011 – November 2014

Project Summary

The Tri-County Small Business Efficiency Program educated small business owners in Lewis and Clark, Jefferson, and Broadwater Counties about strategies to reduce their energy and water use and helped them make energy and water efficiency improvements. To implement the program, Lewis and Clark County partnered with NorthWestern Energy (NEW) to build on the utility's existing E+ Energy Appraisal for Business program. NWE and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) both offered free energy audits to businesses. The County also partnered with the Montana Business Assistance Connection to market the program to small businesses. Jefferson County, Broadwater County, and the City of Helena also supported the project.

The program provided:

  • free audits of electricity, natural gas, and water use for small businesses, and
  • financial assistance to implement the audit's energy and water efficiency recommendations.

During the electricity, natural gas, and water use audit, simple energy- and water-saving measures were implemented, such as the installation of compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, faucet aerators, programmable thermostats, and water heater wraps. Participating small businesses received audit reports recommending additional measures to save them money while reducing their energy and water use. The audit report quantified the expected energy, water, and cost savings associated with both the implemented and the suggested measures.

Lewis and Clark County also provided financial assistance to small businesses to implement the energy and water efficiency recommendations resulting from the energy audit. This assistance reduced upfront costs and removed the biggest barrier to implementing efficiency measures. The program also informed participating small businesses about NorthWestern Energy rebates available to offset the cost of improvements. In addition, the program reimbursed each small business a maximum of $1,500 once the business had implemented one or more of the recommendations in their audit. The program also helped participating businesses find additional rebates from State and NWE programs. Throughout the duration of the Tri-County Small Business Efficiency Program, over 200 businesses participated. Grant funds were used to help businesses complete retrofits and to provide technical assistance to businesses in the area on energy and water efficiency, waste reduction, and pollution prevention. The program inspired a Green Business Certification program. Each small business that implemented one or more of the recommendations from their audit report received a certificate naming them a “Tri-County Green Business.”

Additionally, a monthly workshop series was launched in 2013. Topics included green packaging options, tax credits, and the state’s revolving loan program, and green cleaning products. The County plans to continue training and certifying local businesses.

Lastly, the County performed community outreach via social media. Activities included a year-end reception to reward the top sustainable business leaders in the program, additional green business workshops, and continued support for businesses making energy and water efficiency upgrades.

The program had multiple benefits, including: reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, fossil fuel consumption, and water use among small businesses; saving money for small business owners; and educating small business owners about the benefits of energy and water efficiency.

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Community Characteristics 

Population:                                 60,081

Area:                                         3,461 square miles

Government Type:                       County

Community Type:                        Rural

Median household income:            $50,245

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Final Results

Projected Cumulative Results  

Annual GHG Reductions

739 mt CO2e

800 mt CO2e

Annual Cost Savings



Annual Electricity Saved

466 MWh


Commercial Audits Completed



Retrofits Completed



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Lessons Learned

  • Program implementation took longer than was expected.
  • Once the program started, the number of audits and retrofits completed was greater than expected, but the GHG emission reductions and cost savings were lower than expected.
  • Discussions with businesses revealed that businesses often thought more could be done than was actually possible, and often were not expecting the initial amount of capital investment required to make upgrades.

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  • The Green Business Program will continue to have an impact on reducing energy and water consumption, even though the grant period has ended.
  • The program partnered with a local designer to brand the program as part of a larger regional campaign to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions.

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Project Websites

Tri-County Green Business Program Exit
County Website CSC Page

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