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



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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