Today, Congressman Bill Owens voted in favor of H.R. 4785, The Rural Energy Savings Program Act, a bill that provides households with low-interest loans to make energy efficient upgrades to their homes. These upgrades will lower electric bills for families and spur job growth in the construction and manufacturing sectors. The legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives today by a vote of 240-172.
"Rural Upstate New Yorkers are facing increasing energy costs, and this bill will help to lower the amount of electricity used in homes, family farms and businesses, decreasing the overall cost to run a household or business in the process," said Owens. "As our middle-class families and small business owners work through the recession it is critical that we provide to them the tools they need to succeed."
The bill provides $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 and installation jobs cannot be exported.
Local leaders have praised the program. Wayne C. Sherwood, General Manager and CEO of the Oneida-Madison Electric Cooperative said, "Congressman Owens is to be commended for his efforts on behalf of the Oneida-Madison Electric Cooperative and their members. Through his advocacy for federal legislation, such as the Rural Energy Savings Program Act, electric cooperatives can be in a better position to help more member-customers realize energy efficiency savings by having greater access to affordable financing resources."
The Oneida-Madison Electric Cooperative is an independent, not-for profit electric utility company that serves hundreds of Upstate New Yorkers and helps to keep their utility bills affordable. It has 259.62 miles of power line and 1,972 of services in place. In Madison County, the group serves Brookfield, Eaton, Fenner, Georgetown, Hamilton, Lebanon, Madison, Nelson and Smithfield; in Oneida County it serves Augusta, Kirkland and Marshall.
The Rural Energy Savings Program is intended to help rural customers, who tend to live in older homes, reduce energy costs. The bill is estimated to create 20,000 to 40,000 jobs in the building and construction trades and suppliers and retailers of energy efficient materials. To receive a loan, an entity would have to undergo an energy audit, and would have to specify the upgrades to be implemented and the expected savings from the implementation. The measures to be implemented must be permanent structures such as cover sealing and insulation -- loans cannot be used for light bulbs or energy efficient appliances.
The loans made to the electric cooperatives will have a 0% interest rate. The loans that the cooperatives make to consumers can have an interest rate of no more than 3% (to allow cooperatives to establish a loan loss reserve and to offset personnel and program costs).
The legislation authorizes $993 million for the loan fund and $1.1 million for each of fiscal years 2010 through 2019 for 10 additional employees at the Rural Utilities Service to carry out the program. This is not discretionary spending (it is subject to appropriation), and it is not a permanent program -- the program will end within 20 years, with all the money repaid to the federal government in that time. The bill acts as an authorization of funds, and does not expand local or federal governments or create new spending.