When the heat pump broke in Martha Scott’s dream home, she couldn’t afford a replacement and the blind 80-year-old suffered without air conditioning during the sweltering South Carolina summers.
But through Santee Electric Cooperative’s “Help My House,” an on-bill financing program run by the state’s electric co-ops, the modest house Scott bought with wages earned cleaning houses has a new heat pump, a new roof and lower energy bills.
The “Help My House” funding mechanism is part of the Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP), a new Department of Agriculture program that recently made its first loans to help rural families and small businesses lower energy use and reduce their bills.
USDA’s Rural Utilities Service awarded $13 million in zero-interest loans to South Carolina co-ops through KW Savings Co., a nonprofit created by the state’s co-ops.
KW Savings Co. will pour the RESP funds into lending pools for seven co-ops operating or interested in “Help My House.” The group includes Aiken, Santee, Tri-County, Blue Ridge, Little River, Lynches River and Broad River electric cooperatives.
These new loans will help 1,250 co-op members improve their homes. Since “Help My House” began as a pilot program in 2011, co-ops have helped weatherize some 630 member homes.
South Carolina co-ops credit Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., for introducing the energy savings program in Congress 2010 and persevering until its passage as part of the 2014 Farm Bill.
“Jim Clyburn’s legacy is, at least to me, the very best evidence of where cooperatives excel—at innovation and community commitment,” said Mike Couick, president and CEO of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “The results have been an improvement in members’ quality of life, dollars saved and carbon emissions avoided.”
Electric co-ops are familiar with offering members on-bill financing. Since 2014, Roanoke Electric Cooperative, based in Aulander, North Carolina, and North Arkansas Electric Cooperative in Salem have tapped USDA’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program (EECLP).
The Rural Energy Savings program is open to a broader pool of eligible borrowers, has a zero percent interest rate and has a broader loan term than EECLP.
“Funding commercial, farm and residential energy efficiency investments supports rural economies,” said Roger Glendenning, USDA’s acting deputy undersecretary. “These investments save money for consumers, create jobs in the community and help energy providers better manage costs.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA,