The key to reaching a new clean energy future in this country has and will continue to be innovation. Advances in technologies, management practices and resource development continue to be critical to overcoming challenges and exploiting opportunities that come with making the necessary transition from a fossil-fuel dependent society to one that can take the greatest advantage of sustainable energy sources.
The United States has seen a wide variety of creative policy development as well. And it’s in that spirit of innovation that the 25x’25 Alliance readily supports a proposal that makes federal funds available through local rural utilities in the form of loans to ratepayers to help their homes and businesses use energy more efficiently.
The public comment period closed last week on a proposal that would allow USDA, through its Rural Utilities Service (RUS), to set up an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program. The proposed program will create jobs in the energy efficiency industry, and build upon USDA efforts to provide funding that supports the improvement of energy efficiency of single and multi-family housing, businesses and farms, as well as the utility companies themselves.
Over the years, this blog has often stated that energy efficiency is the option of first choice in a 25x’25 energy future. Why? Because increasing the efficiency of how America uses and produces energy will reduce overall energy demand. Becoming more energy efficient lowers energy bills and improves the country’s competitiveness; enhances national security by reducing demand for oil; stabilizes energy prices; reduces the need to construct new power plants and other generation capacity; enhances electric and natural gas system reliability; and it reduces air pollutants and emissions.
And, it makes it easier to meet the goal of meeting 25 percent of the country’s energy needs from renewable sources produced by our farms, ranches and forestlands by the year 2025.
The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program, which has seen success on a pilot level in a few states, is an innovative way to help boost rural economic development across America by creating jobs and helping homeowners and businesses save money. And it benefits the environment by reducing emissions associated with the production of energy.
There is now a wide availability of increasingly less expensive technologies that can be deployed to more efficiently generate and consume energy in a variety of industries, and reduce energy demand.
An estimated 96 percent of rural electric cooperatives have some form of energy efficiency program in place. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program would provide access to new capital that should greatly accelerate the expansion of local programs that allow homeowners and rural businesses to make affordable, cost-effective energy efficiency improvements.
Also, rural electric cooperatives will have the ability to upgrade electric distribution, transmission and generation facilities through the program. And the program would give rural electric cooperatives additional financing flexibility that allows for the recovery of the internal costs while delivering on the promise of maximizing energy efficiency gains and participation.
The initial maximum funding level of $250 million to support the program is an excellent starting point. But that amount will likely grow with higher participation and as the scale of the projects grow.
With the status of a new farm bill in flux, and with the possible loss of energy efficiency programs contained in the now-expired 2008 Farm Bill, the demand on local energy efficiency programs from agriculture and rural small business could grow significantly. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan program can serve as an excellent tool in meeting some of that gap and serve to reinforce the need to make more efficient use of our energy resources a cornerstone of U.S. energy policy. The Alliance supports the program’s adoption.