The House Agriculture Committee today approved bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Reps. John Spratt (D-SC) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC) to establish a nationwide Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP), modeled on the South Carolina Electric Cooperatives' plan to save their consumers money on their utility bills.
"Many of my hard-working constituents would gladly invest in their homes to make them more efficient," said Spratt, "but they cannot borrow or afford the capital necessary to install a new heat pump or install insulation in their walls and ceiling. This bill will help."
Spratt said "The Rural Energy Savings Program Act," H.R. 4785, will provide $4.9 billion in lending authority through the Rural Utilities Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to supply 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 program is also a big job creator. The electric co-ops estimate that it could create 20,000 to 40,000 new jobs annually nationwide for energy auditors and people trained 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 also be a plus for American manufacturing and construction industries, because energy-efficiency products are almost exclusively manufactured in the United States," Spratt said.
The legislation has been endorsed by numerous business leaders and trade associations, including Owens Corning, the American Chemistry Council, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, and the National Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association.
"This is a super deal for rural electric consumers. It's what government is all about -- helping folks help themselves," Spratt said.
President and CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, Mike Couick, brought the program to the attention of the South Carolina Congressional delegation.
"We're doing the responsible thing with this program," said 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 up-fitting 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 Rural Energy Savings Program is an opportunity to better the lives of rural and low-to-moderate income citizens across the country," said Spratt. "The RESP can raise their quality of life, generate good-paying jobs, and help home-owners invest in and add value to their homes and the local economy."