House Majority Whip and Sixth District Congressman James E. Clyburn joined with Senator Lindsey Graham and Congressman John Spratt today to introduce legislation establishing a nationwide Rural Energy Savings Program, modeled on the South Carolina electric cooperatives' plan to save their consumers money on their utility bills.
This bipartisan legislation provides $4.9 billion in lending authority through the Rural Utilities Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide energy efficient upgrades for participating consumers. Those improvements will be paid for through energy savings spread across monthly payments on participating consumers' utilities bills. The federal government will be repaid its initial investment, and as many as one million electric cooperative consumers will enjoy the benefits of energy efficient homes through the program.
This legislation is also a job creator. It is estimated that this program will create 20,000 to 40,000 new jobs annually nationwide for utility auditors and personnel trained specifically in the installation of energy efficient products. In South Carolina, 2,100 jobs are expected to be created as a result of this program in just the first year. Those jobs will continue to increase to an estimated 4,750 permanent jobs due to ongoing savings.
The program will be a boon for American manufacturing and construction industries, as energy-efficiency products are almost exclusively manufactured in the United States. The legislation was endorsed by numerous business leaders and trade associations, including Owens Corning, The American Chemistry Council, The Retail Industry Leaders Association and National Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association.
"This bill provides for energy conservation, job creation and cost-effective upgrades that will save people money," Congressman Clyburn said. "There is such broad support for this initiative because it is a win-win-win proposition."
"I am proud to work with Congressman Clyburn and others on what I believe will prove to be a worthwhile idea. This is a plan that will help consumers, particularly those in rural areas of our state and nation, become more energy efficient and lower their electricity costs," Senator Graham said. "It is smart policy to take a small, limited amount of federal dollars and empower people to help themselves and, as a result, help our country. By turning this idea into law, our nation will be more energy independent and less dependent on foreign sources of energy. I am proud to be part of this effort and hope we can make it happen this year."
"This is a super deal for rural electric consumers. It's what government is all about -- helping people help themselves. It will lower energy bills and create jobs. It's a win-win for South Carolina," Congressman Spratt said.
Currently there is enabling legislation making its way through the South Carolina General Assembly that will allow the state's 20 electric cooperatives to incorporate the cost of energy efficient improvements in consumers' monthly utility bills. Once the state legislation is enacted, the only obstacle to implementing the program is the start-up capital to fund the initial loans. This federal legislation would eliminate that obstacle.
President and CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, Mike Couick, brought the program to the attention of the South Carolina Congressional members and participated in the announcement in Washington today.
"We're doing the responsible thing with this program," said Mr. Couick. "We'll help our 1.5 million electric consumers in South Carolina save energy and money. We'll also put thousands of people to work conducting energy audits and weatherizing and upfitting homes. And none of this is a giveaway. It's a lending program, and every dollar spent to make improvements gets paid back. We're hopeful that the bipartisan support we've been getting from our congressional delegation will turn this plan into a reality."
The loans to residences and businesses will typically range from $1,500 to $7,000 and will cover sealing, insulation, HVAC systems, heat pumps, boilers, roofs and other improvements. Participating consumers repay the co-ops for the installation and material costs through a charge on their utility bills within not more than a 5-10 year window, and the energy savings from the upgrade will cover most, if not all, of the cost of the loan. After the loan is repaid, consumers will save hundreds of dollars annually. The legislation represents a fiscally sound approach to energy financing as every dollar loaned by the co-ops will be repaid to the taxpayers within 10 years.
The co-sponsors participating in today's announcement in addition to Senator Graham (R-SC) and Congressmen Clyburn (D-SC) and Spratt (D-SC) were Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Congressman Tom Perriello (D-VA), and Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY).