Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4785, the Rural Energy Savings Program Act, commonly known as "Rural Star." The bill, which Congressman Tom Perriello originally cosponsored and has championed in Congress, will finance energy efficiency upgrades in rural homes, creating an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 jobs a year while saving Virginia families and businesses money on their electric bills. Rep. Perriello made maximizing efficiency one of the three pillars of his "New Energy Blueprint" to place Central and Southern Virginia at the forefront of the new energy economy.
"I have been evangelical about Rural Star as a way to reduce Americans' electric bills while supporting American construction jobs and American-manufactured products, like insulation and window films. Now both parties have become believers in this common sense way to help rural families and seniors save money on their electric bills and increase home values," said Rep. Perriello. "This program will put people back to work and has support from home builders, co-ops and environmental groups."
The Rural Star program will be a boon for the domestic manufacturing and construction industries, as almost all energy-efficiency products are American-made, such as window film manufactured in Martinsville, and installation jobs cannot be exported.
"Utility costs are a huge part of any family's monthly expenses. Just as we strongly support energy-efficient solutions in new home construction, we know that there are even bigger gains to be found in improving existing homes," said Jay Willer, executive vice president of the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association. "Finding a way to help families leverage the initial cost of energy renovation can be a significant step. Locally, there are already skilled, experienced contractors eager to meet homeowners' needs. We appreciate Mr. Perriello's support."
Rural Star will provide $4.9 billion in loan authority through the U.S.D.A's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to rural electric cooperatives to offer low-interest micro-loans to residential and small business customers for energy-saving retrofit and structural improvements. Every dollar loaned by RUS to the co-ops is repaid to the taxpayers within ten years. The program builds on the existing co-op infrastructure that has strong community ties and a proven 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 will produce sufficient savings. Participating consumers repay the co-ops for the installation and material costs through a monthly charge on their utility bills. The energy savings from the upgrade will cover most, if not all, of the monthly charge. After the loan is repaid, families will save hundreds of dollars annually.
"With the rising cost of energy, rural homeowners in Central Virginia will benefit greatly from the Rural Star program. The Rural Star program as designed will deliver the expertise of home energy auditors in combination with the necessary low interest loan funds to implement an energy efficiency strategy for electric cooperative homeowners," said Gary Wood, president and CEO of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. "Working together in Central Virginia, we can reduce our energy use while saving our family funds."
"Appalachian Voices applauds Congressman Perriello's efforts to invest in providing jobs and building a sustainable economy for our region," said Appalachian Voices, an environmental advocacy group in the Central Appalachian region. "Energy efficiency investment remains our lowest hanging fruit for reducing our dependence on the fossil fuels that drive both mountaintop removal and climate change. Not only does energy efficiency make sense for protecting our environment, but it makes sense for our economy."
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, like that made in Martinsville, as a qualified product. He has been a champion of new 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, and almost 1,000 families received rebates for efficiency upgrades.