USDA Awards N.C. Co-op $6M to Help Members With Energy-Efficient Upgrades

USDA Deputy Undersecretary Jewel Bronaugh speaks at the Raleigh headquarters of North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives on Dec. 6. (Photo By: Warren Kessler/Carolina County)

A North Carolina electric cooperative has been awarded a $6 million loan from a new U.S. Department of Agriculture program to help the nation’s rural businesses fight climate change, create jobs and expand access to renewable energy technologies.

Roanoke Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Aulander, will use the funds to expand an existing pass-through loan program that helps members pay for energy-efficiency improvements. The funds will also help Roanoke Connect, the co-op’s broadband subsidiary, finance buildouts to remote homes.

The award comes from $633 million appropriated to the USDA for funding rural programs as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last month.

Roanoke Electric is one of 43 local businesses to receive a slice of the $141 million in Rural Energy Savings Program funds from USDA to the state. The announcement was made at a Dec. 6 press conference at the Raleigh headquarters of North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives.

Roanoke Electric Cooperative Chief Operating Officer Marshall Cherry speaks at a press conference in Raleigh where the USDA awarded Roanoke EC $6 million in Rural Energy Savings Program funds for its member relending program. (Photo By: Warren Kessler/Carolina County)

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Jewel Bronaugh said the awards are meant to reduce the impacts of climate change on rural communities through investments in energy-efficiency projects. She noted that North Carolina has endured several major hurricanes in recent years.

“There is no question that rural America is feeling the impact of climate change, and our communities desperately need investments that will strengthen our resilience,” said Bronaugh.

Roanoke Electric will use the award to broaden its Upgrade to $ave program, which offers loans and long-term on-bill financing to help members make costly home efficiency improvements such as installing new lighting, insulation, electric water heaters, HVAC equipment or electric vehicle charging systems.

“I can’t underscore enough its importance for the rural member-owners we service, many, if not most, of whom can’t afford to invest in changes that will make the biggest difference,” said Chief Operating Officer Marshall Cherry.

Since the program began as a pilot in 2015, some 650 co-op members have financed total energy retrofits for their homes, resulting in annual savings of around $600 per residence, Cherry said. The retrofits include duct sealing and repairs, air sealing, attic and floor insulation, and for many homes, a high-efficiency heat pump.

“Everything we do is aimed at furthering the best interest of our members and paving the way for a brighter future in the communities we serve, and we appreciate the support of the USDA through this loan,” said Cherry.

Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.