Today, the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture successfully passed H.R. 4785, the Rural Energy Savings Program Act--known as "Rural Star"--clearing it for a vote by the full House of Representatives. The bill, which Congressman Tom Perriello originally cosponsored and is championing in Congress, would establish a loan program to create an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 jobs a year while saving Virginia families and businesses money on their electric bills. Today, Perriello called on his colleagues in Congress to pass the bill into law before the August recess.
"Especially in the past year when we've experienced extreme temperatures and weather both in the winter and in the summer, saving Virginia families money on their heating and cooling bills can make a big difference. These energy efficiency upgrades will lower energy costs and put Virginians back to work right away manufacturing and installing this technology. I'm thrilled to see the Rural Star bill moving forward and I urge my colleagues to pass this much-needed job-creating measure before the August recess," said Perriello.
Perriello has been a champion of clean energy jobs in Virginia, creating a "New Energy" Blueprint to put the 5th district at the forefront of this burgeoning industry. In the past year, significant progress has been made in the area of energy efficiency, with federal funding from the Recovery Act supporting weatherization of 824 homes in the 5th district, a 70% increase from previous years.
The Rural Star program would provide $4.9 billion in loan authority through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to electric cooperatives to offer low-interest micro-loans to residential and small business customers for energy-saving retrofit and structural improvements. The program will be a boon for the domestic manufacturing and construction industries, as energy-efficiency products are almost exclusively manufactured in the United States--like window film manufactured in Martinsville--and installation jobs cannot be exported. The program builds on the existing co-op infrastructure that has strong community ties and a demonstrated 75-year history of on-bill financing for consumer loans.
Trained auditors and contractors will conduct energy audits to determine what sorts of energy efficiency improvements are warranted. Typical consumer loans will be $1,500 to $7,000, and will cover sealing, insulation, heat pumps, HVAC systems, boilers, roofs and other improvements that the utility has demonstrated to RUS will produce sufficient savings. Participating consumers repay the co-ops for the installation and material costs through an extra charge on their utility bills within not more than a 10 year window. The energy savings from the upgrade will cover most, if not all, of the cost of the loan. Consumers will save more on their energy bills after the loan is repaid, saving most families hundreds of dollars annually. Every dollar loaned by RUS to the co-ops is repaid to the taxpayers within ten years after the cooperative re-lends the funds to the consumer.
Rep. Perriello was part of the bipartisan, bicameral coalition that introduced the bill in March. The bill is a companion to the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act (H.R. 5019) which Perriello supported earlier this spring after fighting for an amendment that would cover window film as a qualified product.