Under the provision, Industrial Assessment Centers would be able to do more than advise manufacturers.
The Senate passed its first major energy bill since 2007, and it's a whopper, with all sorts of various provisions affecting various sectors. The House passed its own omnibus bill in December, and the two will have their differences worked out in a conference committee. The good news for the manufacturing sector is that both bills contain very similar manufacturing "aid" provisions and they are focused on small and medium-sized companies.
The provisions seek to add muscle to the Department of Energy’s Industrial Assessment Centers (IAC) program, which is run out of 24 federally funded university sites. The IACs go to manufacturing facilities and write recommendations as to how the companies can save energy with energy efficiency improvements, waste minimization, pollution prevention, and productivity improvements. Both bills give the IACs new authority to help companies adopt “smart manufacturing” technologies and processes.
A problem with the program, however, has been IACs’ lack of follow-up. By law they cannot work with the company to implement recommendations.
Both bills fix that by establishing what would be called a new “Future of Industry” program that would link the IAC program to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership Centers and allow the IACs to provide on-site technical assessments to manufacturers seeking efficiency opportunities.
The bills also support the effort to expand the IAC program by linking it to the national laboratories and establishing a joint industry-government partnership program to research, develop, and demonstrate new sustainable manufacturing and industrial technologies and processes. Companies eligible for this consulting service would be those with gross annual sales of less than $100 million, fewer than 500 employees at the plant site, and annual energy bills totaling more than $100,000 but less than $2.5 million.
Mr. Barlas, a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C., covers topics inside the Beltway.