Energy Efficiency

S.C. Efficiency Plan Draws Interest

By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer Published: March 22nd, 2012

If one of your cooperative members is sinking financially, throw them a lifeline, not an anvil.

Mike Couick of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina explains an innovative energy-efficiency program at a Cooperative Development Foundation forum. (Photo By: Luis Gomez Photos)

Mike Couick of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina explains an innovative energy-efficiency program at a Cooperative Development Foundation forum. (Photo By: Luis Gomez Photos)

That’s the analogy Mike Couick, president and CEO of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, used in explaining an energy-efficiency initiative developed by South Carolina electric cooperatives to a national forum.

“If you have certainty in your energy efficiency, if you know it’s going to be there, then you can depend on it, just like you can a nuclear plant,” Couick said March 19 at a Washington, D.C., conference on affordable rural housing, sponsored by the Cooperative Development Foundation.

Particularly in depressed, rural areas of South Carolina, the idea of selling more electricity means higher bills in residences―often manufactured housing―that waste more power than they use, he said.

Couick said when the “Help My House” program kicked off in 2010, homeowners in some singlewide trailers were spending $800 to $900 a month on energy in the winter.

“If your business plan is to sell more, more, more, at some point, you’re throwing an anvil to your people,” he said.

Under the South Carolina program, approved energy auditors comb over eligible dwellings to create a list of cost-effective upgrades, such as weatherization and heat pump replacement.

The co-op inspects the work to make sure it has been done properly. Homeowners repay the money through a monthly charge on their electric bill, using a portion of the money they save by using less energy.

In a 2011 pilot of the program involving eight of South Carolina’s 20 distribution co-ops, the payback period was set at 10 years or less. The average projected payback is less than six years.

South Carolina co-ops have benefitted from an Agriculture Department loan last fall as part of the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program, Couick added.

The $740,000 loan went to Central Electric Cooperative, a wholesale power supplier based in Columbia. The loan underwrote 100 residential energy-efficiency retrofit loans, as part of the co-ops’ research into consumer acceptance of on-bill financing and the effectiveness of the program model.

The co-ops and their partners at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, who are funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, are spending 2012 comparing energy use in the weatherized homes with historical use.

Eventually, “Help My House” could reach as many as 225,000 homes, Couick said.

He told the forum that the program is about more than just saving energy and forestalling the need for new generation. It’s about the quality of life.

“Just selling folks electricity and leaving it at that can create a real downward pull on families,” he said. “Why do we want to do this program? Because it helps our members.”

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