Time and Energy

By Jesse Campbell (jesse.campbell@mountaintimes.com)



Article Published: Oct. 24 | Modified: Oct. 24

Saving money on your monthly electric bill can pay huge dividends during the course of the year.

To help tighten up the envelope of your home and, in turn, make it more energy efficient, Appalachian Voices is reaching out to energy cooperatives throughout the region to assist in covering front-end costs in new energy savings programs for customers.

If all goes to plan, co-op members will be able to receive a loan from their energy provider to make certain upgrades to their homes to eliminate air leaks throughout the residence and install new systems to more efficiently heat their homes, said Appalachian Voices’ energy policy director, Rory McIlmoil.

The loans would be low-interest and can be repaid with monthly additions to the residence’s electrical bill, McIlmoil said.

“This is designed to provide loans on an energy savings package where the savings are greater than the payment,” McIlmoil said.

According to Appalachian Voices, monthly electrical bills can be lowered substantially by retrofitting homes with cost-saving measures, such as the replacement of electrical baseboards with a new heat pump, the addition of insulation into the cavities of walls and securing leaky ductwork, along with the replacement of outdated windows and sills.

Customers who rent and want to apply for the energy saving loan would run into certain stipulations that would also require owners’ consent. “There would have to be some provision in there to prevent default,” McIlmoil said.

The program will likely receive a jolt later this year when a new federal loan program geared toward energy efficiency is administered through the United States Department of Agriculture, McIlmoil said.
Blue Ridge Electric officials said they have previously proposed similar energy efficiency loans to members, but garnered little interest and are concerned that liability issues with loan default under the current program spearheaded by Appalachian Voices.

Unlike a similar loan program used in South Carolina, electrical cooperatives in North Carolina would not be protected from collecting on defaulted energy efficiency loans by adding it on the borrower’s monthly bill, said Renee Whitener, director of public relations for Blue Ridge Electric.

“Without a similar provision in North Carolina law, if a Blue Ridge member defaulted on their loan, all members of BRE would have to cover the loss,” Whitener said. “Without the protection or security of such a law, we would be taking a risk that could impact all of our members.”

The program is still in the planning and implementation stages, but McIlmoil is hopeful that enough electric cooperatives in North Carolina and Tennessee will show sufficient interest to begin a pilot program.

“The co-ops like the program and the intent, but are concerned about specific elements like tying the loan to a meter instead of the customer,” McIlmoil said. “Some like that and some don’t.”

Both parties agree that legislation would also bolster the loan’s possibility of implementation.
BRE also has other programs in place geared toward energy efficiency.

“Blue Ridge Electric has a long history of promoting energy efficiency and has many tools and resources available for free on our website ( http://www.blueridgeemc.com), by phone and in our offices,” Whitener said. “We always recommend members first start with (our) free energy efficiency tools.”

Those tools include the co-op’s online energy audit that uses one’s specific home’s usage data to give customized suggestions for free, low-cost and higher-cost energy efficiency suggestions to lower one’s bill.

There is also a daily electricity usage tracking tool, called MyUsage.com, that helps improve awareness of when electricity is used, which, in turn, helps stimulate practical ideas for energy efficiency and many energy efficiency videos, tips and ideas, Whitener said.

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