Energy & Environment, Top Story

Fine-Tuning USDA Efficiency Plan

By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer Published: October 9th, 2012

NRECA says it strongly backs an Agriculture Department initiative that relies on electric cooperatives to help rural residents with the upfront cost of energy-efficiency upgrades.

NRECA has suggested some changes to a proposed USDA energy-efficiency program. (Photo By: Newscom)

NRECA has suggested some changes to a proposed USDA energy-efficiency program. (Photo By: Newscom)

But a few changes to the proposed Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program could produce more participation and value, the association told the department.

“Although the proposed program offers much-needed additional resources to enable cooperatives to implement energy efficiency measures, enhanced program flexibility and discretion will result in a more cost-effective, efficient and successful voluntary program that will be more fully utilized by cooperatives to meet identified local needs,” NRECA said in a Sept. 26 filing.

The comment came in response to USDA’s request for input on the program, which would make about $250 million initially available to G&Ts and distribution co-ops through the Rural Utilities Service.

Co-ops would make microloans to members for efficiency improvements, which could be repaid through a charge on monthly electric bills, or by other means. The program uses energy savings from the upgrades to help offset the loan payment.

NRECA said the new endeavor will supplement existing efforts―about 96 percent of co-ops operate some type of efficiency program―and go beyond the smaller-scale Energy Resource Conservation loans that RUS currently offers.

“ERC loans are for more limited purposes than the proposed program, which would add load-modifying renewable resources and demand-side management improvements, among others, as eligible activities,” NRECA said.

In its filing, NRECA said USDA should make the new program more accessible by extending its five-year limit for demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of efficiency upgrades.

“Changing the requirement from 5 years to 10 years will permit cooperatives and their consumers to dig more deeply and achieve greater total amounts of energy efficiency,” NRECA said.

“It will enable co-ops to broaden their programs to include consumers who might not otherwise be able to participate.”

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