Rural electric co-ops have new resource to help customers save

While compelling stories about energy efficiency often invoke images of high-performance skyscrapers or extol policies of cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, America’s rural electric co-ops serve millions of households and businesses with electricity and related services and can help their customers make smart investments in energy efficiency.

Today the Rural Utility Service (RUS) announced a program that will better enable rural electric co-ops across the country to help their customers. 

The RUS’s new program, announced today by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, will allow co-ops to use low-cost funds from the RUS to, in turn, offer low-cost loans to their customers to make efficiency improvements, such as adding more insulation to a house, replacing a broken air-conditioner with a high-efficiency model, or installing a combined heat and power system in an industrial facility.   [Click here for a full description of the RUS's Energy Efficiency Conservation Loan Program.]

A low-cost loan from the co-op could enable a homeowner or business to make the needed investment without waiting to save enough cash to pay the entire cost of the project up-front or paying the high cost of using a credit card – which is often the only option for many families and small businesses.

Efficiency investments can reduce expenses for households and businesses, add to the property value, and help utilities avoid burning dirty fuel to produce electricity that would otherwise be wasted in houses with too little insulation or inefficient equipment.  This helps our health, our children’s health, and our climate.  Upgrading homes, businesses, and even farms can translate into jobs nationwide for companies that make and install products to reduce energy waste, such as insulation and better windows.

In today’s announcement, Secretary Vilsack said: "Energy efficiency retrofitting can shrink home energy use by 40 percent, saving money for consumers and helping rural utilities manage their electric load more efficiently."  

NRDC and the National Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NRECA) made a mutual commitment to work together on energy efficiency investments and standards back in 2008 (and my colleagues report that NRECA stalwart Jim Jura of Missouri-based AECI has been a valued NRDC partner on efficiency initiatives for more than a quarter-century). 

NRECA deserves praise for helping the RUS to craft this new program.  RUS and the Obama Administration deserve credit for pressing ahead to build a program on demonstrated best practices – co-ops in South Carolina (“Help My House”) and other states have successfully proven these loan programs can work.

Now the task is to help co-ops to implement effective programs using the RUS program as a resource. The new program will surely require additional tuning as we gain more experience, and we look forward to working with our friends at co-ops and NRECA to improve it so more of America’s families and businesses can enjoy the benefits of improved energy efficiency.