The city of Minneapolis is accepting applications for a new $1.17 million energy assistance program aimed at small businesses owned by people of color, immigrants and those affected by this year's civil unrest.

Under the program announced Tuesday, applicants can receive up to $40,000 toward installing solar panels or making other energy efficient changes to their storefronts and restaurants.

Grants could be issued as soon as January. An estimated 200 businesses could benefit, with an eye toward those shops located in areas hardest hit by last spring's riots.

As part of the program, trainees from Summit Academy OIC and the Minnesota Career Center in north Minneapolis will install the solar panels and other energy efficiency equipment in the businesses.

Joaquin Thomas, the chief operating officer of S3 Solar Service Solutions — who is leading the hiring for the solar training program at Summit Academy OIC — praised the city's effort Tuesday. "When these programs get funded it allows boots to get on the ground and work. … These programs have a lot of on site job training."

Xcel Energy, CenterPoint Energy, Clean Energy Economy and others are partnering with the city. The city's $1.17 million is expected to leverage $15 million in matching energy-efficiency investment from utility and nonprofit partners in affected communities of color.

"We aren't just recovering, we are building back stronger," Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said Tuesday in announcing the program, which is part of a larger initiative called Minneapolis Forward: Rebuild Resilient.

Frey and Council Member Andrea Jenkins said the initiative supports struggling firms and addresses racial equity efforts while cutting energy costs and pollution and providing jobs and training in affected communities.

Frey emphasized that with the challenges of COVID-19, the economic downturn, George Floyd's killing and civil unrest, it was important for the city, utilities and nonprofits to partner.

Because the targeted businesses are already removing rubble and planning rebuilding, the opportunity arose to rebuild with energy efficiency in mind.

"If you are going to have to get new light fixtures, well, let us make it LED," Frey said. "If you have to get a new [heating and AC] system, let us make sure to reduce the carbon footprint."

As part of the Minneapolis Forward program, community leaders from the Lake Street Council, West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, the Latino Economic Development Center, Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and elsewhere have recommended the city take eight key actions to help ensure racial equity and to get communities back on their feet after suffering millions of dollars in damage.

Scores of businesses along Lake Street, University Avenue, West Broadway and in Uptown were looted and badly damaged during riots following Floyd's death in May.

Many store owners have struggled with insurance issues and have been unable to get city permits to remove rubble and rebuild.

The city's newest initiative is one of many actions taken to help address those needs, Frey said.

Jenkins thanked members of Minneapolis Forward for "working tirelessly" to help the city "rebuild better."

Many of their recommendations "are going to have a direct impact on our communities of color as they begin to try and rebuild after the impacts of COVID and subsequent unrest that has continued to plague this city and cities all around the country," Jenkins said.

She added that during these times, the city of Minneapolis must think about public safety "but also economic recovery."

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725