The Front Porch Blog, with Updates from AppalachiaThe Front Porch Blog, with Updates from Appalachia



The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 3)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 | Posted by Rory McIlmoil | 1 Comment

EE_seriesEnergy efficiency is merely one strategy that local governments, economic development agencies working with the rural electric co-op or municipal utilities might employ with the goal of diversifying the local economy. But the proven benefits of energy efficiency investments suggest it should be a key focus in any plan for local economic diversification. [ More ]

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 2)

Sunday, May 11th, 2014 | Posted by Rory McIlmoil | No Comments

urlThe small businesses, churches and schools you're likely to find in a typical Appalachian town are pillars of their communities. But they're not sources of significant employment. For most of rural Appalachia, poverty, high unemployment and the lack of economic diversity are persistent problems that have yet to be addressed in any comprehensive, effective manner. [ More ]

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 1)

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Posted by Rory McIlmoil | No Comments

urlWhen you think of poverty, what words do you associate with it? Many of us might think of words like “low-income,” “unemployment” or “homelessness.” Unfortunately, it is not often that we associate poverty with electricity costs, because for many across the United States, especially those living in the South and Appalachia, electricity costs play a significant role in worsening the impacts of poverty. [ More ]

On Heels of USDA Energy Efficiency Loan Program, Appalachian Voices Launches the Energy Savings Action Center

Thursday, December 12th, 2013 | Posted by Rory McIlmoil | No Comments

The Energy Savings Action Center is an easy-to-use tool designed to help save money and energy by promoting energy efficiency loan programs through your electric utility.

The Energy Savings Action Center is an easy-to-use tool designed to help save money and energy by promoting energy efficiency loan programs through your electric utility.

On Dec. 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program (EECLP), a new loan program that will provide at least $250 million to rural electric cooperatives each year to develop or expand energy efficiency loan programs for residential and business customers.

To encourage rural electric cooperatives across Appalachia take advantage of the new program, and help the region’s residents save money on their energy bills, Appalachian Voices created the Energy Savings Action Center.

Stephen Johnson of the online publication Electric Co-op Today stressed the importance of the EECLP, stating that “Although energy efficiency measures can reduce home energy use considerably, many consumers and businesses do not invest in them because they lack the capital or financing to do so.”
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How the Government Shutdown Effects Rural Energy Efficiency Programs

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 | Posted by Rory McIlmoil | No Comments

In states such as Kentucky and South Carolina, electric cooperatives are pursuing ways to reduce their members energy costs. But the government shutdown is affecting the funding outlook for energy efficiency programs nationwide. Photo by KFTC

In states such as Kentucky and South Carolina, electric cooperatives are pursuing ways to reduce their members energy costs. But the government shutdown is affecting the funding outlook for energy efficiency programs nationwide. Photo by KFTC.

While many rural electric cooperatives are waiting eagerly for the government to get back to work, others are moving forward on energy efficiency.

While some rural electric cooperatives are large and have the ability to provide valuable services to their customers, others are smaller, cash-strapped, and face administrative and financial challenges on a daily basis.

To reduce electricity costs for the customers, some co-ops look to federal funding to support programs that they see as beneficial to their customers.

The general consensus among co-ops is that federal funds are a vital source of support for providing reliable electricity and helping their customers pay their electricity bills — especially in rural areas where those bills tend to be higher and constitute a greater portion of a family’s income.
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Energy Efficiency Programs Survive the Government Shutdown

Thursday, October 10th, 2013 | Posted by Rory McIlmoil | No Comments

Despite the government shutdown, energy efficiency programs offered by federally-owned TVA and its partner utilities are helping businesses across the Southeast.

Despite the government shutdown, energy efficiency programs offered by federally-owned TVA and its partner utilities are helping businesses across the Southeast grow and thrive.

Although TVA is a government-owned electric utility, the ongoing government shutdown has not affected its operations. As a result, businesses across the Southeast are able to continue saving money and energy thanks to TVA’s Energy Right Solutions for Industry program.

For instance, on Oct. 8, TVA representatives and Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant handed a $2 million check to steelmaker Severstal Columbus as a reward for reducing its energy consumption by nearly 26 million kilowatt-hours — approximately half of the plant’s total energy consumption — through investments in equipment upgrades.

“When we can offset building new buildings with energy efficiency, everyone wins because our fuel and purchase power goes down for all consumers in the valley,” TVA’s Energy Efficiency Director Cindy Herron said, describing the benefits of such investments. “This upgrade will help lower production costs and help Severstal stay competitive, in turn, helping the entire community.”
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USDA Finds Energy Efficiency Has No Significant Environmental Impact

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Rory McIlmoil | No Comments

A quick read of the USDA's finding that energy efficiency has no significant impact (FONSI) might have you thinking the Fonz' approves of energy efficiency programs. We'd like to think he does.

A quick read of the USDA’s finding that energy efficiency has no significant impact (FONSI) might have you thinking the Fonz’ approves of efficiency programs. We’d like to think he does too.

On August 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service published a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the environment by implementing the Rural Utilities Service’s soon-to-be-finalized Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program (EECLP).

The EECLP is a proposed federal loan program that would offer low-interest loans to rural electric cooperatives to develop and implement a range of energy efficiency and demand-side management programs, including residential energy efficiency financing programs like South Carolina’s successful “Help My House” pilot. The FONSI determination was made based on an analysis of the environmental impact statement prepared for the EECLP.

The major takeaway here — albeit a no-brainer — is that unlike the extraction of fossil fuels, the construction of miles of new transmission lines, and the development of large-scale, centralized renewable energy power plants, energy efficiency does not significantly impact the environment in any way.
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As the Barn Burns, the House Stays Cold on Energy Efficiency

Thursday, July 18th, 2013 | Posted by Rory McIlmoil | 3 Comments

Learn more about Appalachian Voices work to expand energy efficiency programs among rural electric cooperatives in our region.

Learn more about Appalachian Voices work to expand energy efficiency programs among rural electric cooperatives in our region.

There has been much ado about energy efficiency in Congress recently, but so far there’s nothing to show for it.

On June 12, we wrote about the Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP), which could help millions of residential electricity customers across the United States access low-cost financing for improving the energy efficiency of their homes, leading to substantial savings on their electricity bills. This in turn would lower electricity costs for all residential customers while bolstering local economies and promoting the expansion of the energy services industry (read: jobs).

At the time, RESP had been passed through the U.S. Senate as part of the Senate Farm Bill, and we were awaiting the House to pass it’s own bill, which did not include RESP. The next step would be to ensure that RESP survived the conference committee where the two versions were brought together and a final Farm Bill was agreed upon between the two chambers. However, since our last post on this issue, the House failed to pass a Farm Bill at all and has now split the bill into two separate bills, complicating the whole process.
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“Help My House” pilot program helps low-income residents save money and energy in South Carolina

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013 | Posted by Rory McIlmoil | 2 Comments

After a successful year, the Help My House pilot program proves that on-bill financing for energy efficiency benefits customers, electricity providers and the environment.

After a successful year, the Help My House pilot program proves that on-bill financing for energy efficiency benefits customers, electricity providers and the environment.

“On-bill financing” is a term typically used to describe loan programs for home energy efficiency improvements where the loan is paid back through an extra charge on a customer’s electricity bill. This is not a novel idea, as it has been implemented on various scales and in various forms by municipalities, electric cooperatives (“co-ops”) and even large for-profit utilities across America.

Additionally, loans for energy efficiency retrofits might not sound very exciting to the average American citizen who understands what a loan is, and more and more, what it is like to face debt for years on end. However, on-bill financing is not just another loan program.

The concept of on-bill financing has emerged as an effective and affordable way to help low- and middle-income residents overcome financial barriers to saving energy and money, improving the value of their home, and living a more comfortable life, while at the same time reducing the environmental impacts associated with burning fossil fuels to produce electricity and heat. The goal of such loans is to finance home energy improvements that result in a net savings for the resident, rather than a net cost.

For these reasons, Appalachian Voices, through our Energy Savings for Appalachia program has been hitting the road to promote on-bill financing as a way to help residents save energy and money while promoting economic development and environmental protection at the same time.
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Needle in a Haystack: U.S. Senate Supports Lower Energy Costs for Rural America, will the House Follow Suit?

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013 | Posted by Rory McIlmoil | No Comments

On June 11, the U.S. Senate passed a five-year Farm Bill that includes a rural energy savings program administered by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Photo courtesy of Tim Coolong

On June 11, the U.S. Senate passed a five-year Farm Bill that includes a rural energy savings program administered by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Photo courtesy of Tim Coolong

On June 11, the U.S. Senate passed a five-year Farm Bill that includes a small provision with significant potential for reducing energy costs for rural Americans.

The Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP) — based on South Carolina’s successful “Help My House” program and first introduced in 2012 as a stand-alone bill — would authorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to provide zero-interest loans to rural electric cooperatives to create what is known as “on-bill financing” programs. Should RESP be passed as part of the final Farm Bill, Appalachian Voices will work hard to promote the program to rural residents and electric coops through our Energy Savings for Appalachia program.

With on-bill financing, electric coops offer low-interest loans to their residential customers to finance energy efficiency improvements to their home, and the residents repay the loan through an extra charge on their electricity bill. In rural America, which largely gets its electricity from electric membership cooperatives, there is a greater concentration of inefficient housing and low-income residents. Low-interest loans that save homeowners and renters a significant amount of money on their electricity bills could have a significant financial impact not only for the residents and the local economy, but also for the electric cooperatives.

On-bill financing programs supporting home energy efficiency improvements are relatively new, but they have already proven to be highly successful and growing in popularity, particularly among heavily rural, conservative states. For instance, pilot programs having been implemented in Kentucky and South Carolina, and a full-scale program is being offered through Midwest Energy in Kansas. Each of these programs has achieved an average savings of 20 percent or more for their participating customers, and initial results for the South Carolina program estimate that the average loan is saving participating low-income residents nearly $1,300 per year.
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