WASHINGTON (WSAZ) -- The USDA will take new steps to save consumers money on their energy bills in partnership with rural electric cooperatives, according to a news release from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The USDA plans to provide rural electric cooperatives up to $250 million to lend to business and residential customers for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems.
"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," Vilsack said in a prepared release. "Ultimately, reducing energy use helps pump capital back into rural communities. This program is designed to meet the unique needs of consumers and businesses to encourage energy efficiency retrofitting projects across rural America."
Vilsack noted that the Energy Efficiency and Loan Conservation Program, by promoting energy savings in rural areas, is another step by which USDA is supporting President Obama's Climate Action Plan. The program will help build a cleaner and more sustainable domestic energy sector for future generations by reducing barriers to investment in energy efficiency and potentially cutting energy bills for American families and businesses in the process.
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. Consistent with President Obama's Climate Action Plan, this program will reduce barriers to these investments by making financing more available.
Funding will be provided to rural electric cooperatives and utilities – the majority of which already have energy efficiency programs in place – who will then re-lend the money to help homeowners or businesses make energy efficiency improvements. In addition to energy audits, the loans may be used for upgrades to heating, lighting and insulation, and conversions to more efficient or renewable energy sources.
A March 2012 Rockefeller Foundation report on financing energy efficiency projects found that a $279 billion investment could yield more than $1 trillion in energy savings over 10 years. That is the equivalent of 30 percent of the annual electricity spending in the U.S. Funding from the loan program will complement and strengthen other energy efficiency activities at USDA. Through its Rural Development mission area, USDA also supports the research, development and use of renewable fuels.
Vilsack noted that many of USDA's existing efforts to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency are provided by the Farm Bill – and he once again urged Congress to provide a new, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that continues investing in a clean energy future for rural America.