The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) provides information for citizens, schools, businesses and government on a variety of energy topics. In addition, using U.S. State Energy Program (SEP) funding, the DEQ manages a number of grant and loan programs that provide support for conservation, renewable energy, recycling, and biofuels projects statewide.
One of the DEQ's longest running programs is the State Buildings Energy Conservation Program (SBECP). The program was established in 1989. Over the years a variety of funding sources has provided capital for the program including a large infusion of SEP funds in 2009 that provided jobs on construction projects throughout Montana and will allow the program to be self-sustaining for many years. Energy savings realized as a result of the program are repaid to the SBECP, where the energy savings repayments revolve into new loans that are invested in additional energy upgrades. Among current projects are energy retrofits to campus buildings at the two major universities and their satellite universities and colleges of technologies. In the past two years 88 state-owned buildings representing more than 4.3 million square feet of office space have undergone energy audits and retrofit projects including improved lighting and better mechanical systems. The improvements to state infrastructure include office buildings, warehouses, transportation maintenance facilities, the School for the Deaf and Blind and state hospitals and veteran care centers.
Another longstanding program within the DEQ is the Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program (AERLP). This loan fund has also used a variety of funding sources through the years including SEP funds. AERLP provides a financing option to Montana homeowners, small businesses, non-profits and government entities to install alternative energy systems. Like the SBEC program, AERLP funds are paid back to the program over time and loaned out again and again, extending the funding benefits for years. Loans are capped at $40,000 and carry a 3.5 percent interest rate (rate adjusted annually) with terms of up to 15 years.
With additional SEP funding in 2009 Montana was able to fund four alternative energy grant projects including: Core Wind Power's three-megawatt direct-drive wind turbine, in Ronan; Algae Aqua Culture Technology's commercial-scale algae greenhouse project in Columbia Falls, Opportunity Link's biodiesel locomotive partnership with BNSF in Havre; and Earl Fisher's oilseed processing and biodiesel refinery project in Chester. All of these projects will provide long-term jobs in alternative energy for Montanans.
SEP funding is also improving the recycling infrastructure in Montana communities through the purchase of equipment to collect, store, and transport recyclables to market and assist local businesses use the materials collected as raw materials for processing. A total of 19 recycling projects were funded through the Montana Recycling Infrastructure Grants program, including recycling collection bins in Libby, Troy, Colstrip, St. Ignatius, Ronan, Polson, Bozeman, Havre, Shelby and at sporting events, performances and tradeshows held on the campus of Montana State University.