South Carolina electric cooperatives are receiving a $13 million federal loan to help make consumer-members’ homes more energy efficient.
The seven co-ops are the first in the nation to receive the money through the USDA Rural Energy Savings Loan Program.
U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-SC, created and introduced RESP to Congress in 2010, and managed to get funding for it included in the 2014 Farm Bill. Clyburn said he got the idea for the program from the cooperatives’ Help my House program, which helps customers and homeowners weatherize their homes to make them more energy-efficient.
Clyburn represents South Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District. He said the weatherization funding will enable up to 1,300 more homes to be retrofitted, allowing their owners to pay for the upgrades through a zero-interest loan that can be repaid with money saved on their power bills.
“This is something that we can export. I think that this program ought to be nationalized,” he explained. “Well, not everybody thought the same way and it took some time to explain the program to members of Congress.”
Since it was launched in 2011, Help My House programs have assisted 740 homes for members of participating co-ops. Help My House overcomes traditional barriers to weatherizing existing homes by offering energy efficiency analysis, specially-trained contractors, low-interest loans with no money down, and on-bill financing.
“We are exporting to the rest of the country a very good program,” Clyburn said. “Rural communities are being challenged today because South Carolina, according to the statistics I’ve read, is, per capita, the number one state in the nation for manufactured housing and therefore this program is very important.”
Clyburn says the program also helps rural economies.
“You are hiring HVAC people. Electricians . . . but all the insulation, all of this would create jobs. It also helps to churn the economy in rural South Carolina,” he said.
The federal government loans the money at zero percent interest to the cooperatives, who then loan the money to an individual homeowner. The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina created a non-profit agency called KW Savings to request the federal money. KW Savings then turns around and loans the money to the homeowner who gets the energy efficiency work done in their home. The homeowner pays the loan back at a low interest rate to KW Savings. KW Savings then pays back the federal government. Loans are issued for up to 10 years.
“Now North Carolina is buying into this program. Arkansas buying into this program,” Clyburn said. “But not just Southern states. Colorado, the state of Washington and the state of Ohio.”