Congressman Jim Clyburn pushed the program that allows customers of rural electric cooperatives to take out a USDA loan for energy upgrades to their homes. Co-op members then pay back the loans in their monthly utility bills, once savings kick in.
Clyburn tried to pass this program into law, but it stalled in the Senate. Senator Richard Lugar put it in the omnibus farm bill which passed the Senate and is now back in the House.
Clyburn is still pushing the bill, which would give more than $4 billion in one-time loans for energy retrofits.
In the meantime, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and South Carolina Electric Cooperatives President and CEO Mike Couick joined with Clyburn to announce that President Obama has signed off on the USDA using $250 million of existing USDA Rural Utilities Service funds to make these loans.
These are recurring funds, taken from the USDA’s lending fund for building power generation, transmission and distribution. The interest on these loans to co-ops makes money for the government, says Couick of the SC Electric Cooperatives.
If the federal law passes, it would replace this new USDA program.
Clyburn and Vilsack are selling the loan program as a job-generator. Couick says a two-year-old study by economist Don Schunk projected that upfitting 200,000 homes would create 7,000 jobs over 20 years–not just for HVAC workers but by putting more money in the pockets of ratepayers.
Secretary Vilsack said, “Congressman Clyburn and Mike Couick have been leaders not just in South Carolina, but nationally, in an effort to create greater energy efficiency in homes particularly in rural areas. What we are hoping to do today is a result of what is already being done in South Carolina…to make these resources available to rural electric cooperatives to re-lend to homeowners to finance the upfront cost for energy-efficient improvements.”
In South Carolina, Couick says their leadership has set a goal of retrofitting 200,000 homes served by co-ops. “It is optimistic and it would be unprecedented in this country, but it is one that would be done over time, a 10-year period.”
Rep. Clyburn used the example of Jordan Johnson of Calhoun County, who got a loan from Tri-County Electric Cooperative for $6500. According to Clyburn, they got a new heat pump, insulation and air leaks were sealed. Their average winter bill last year was $400, and this winter they dropped to about $200. Johnson is paying $300 a month until the loan is paid off.