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The push for a more efficient rural America

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that USDA has funded the first two loans under the new Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program.

Addressing the need to improve resource management on the farm and across rural America, USDA has launched a loan program designed to encourage rural electric cooperatives to help consumers reduce energy bills through energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that USDA has funded the first two loans under the new Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program.

The program could soon bring alternative and sustainable energy resources and programs to rural Texas and the Southwest by encouraging investments in solar, wind and even geothermal energy sources.

"These [initial] loans to North Arkansas Electric Cooperative and Roanoke Electric Membership Corporation are a landmark in our efforts to promote rural economic growth while reducing greenhouse gases," Vilsack said.

The Secretary indicated the loan program supports the national climate action plan and reduces barriers to investment in energy efficiency, cutting business and residential energy use in rural areas.

"This is an historic new bond in the partnership between USDA and our rural electric cooperatives," he added.

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program allows USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) borrowers to implement energy efficiency upgrades for consumers through the use of loans for energy audits and energy efficiency upgrades, including weatherization, HVAC improvements, high efficiency lighting and conversions to more efficient or renewable energy sources, such as consumer-scale solar power and ground source heat pumps.

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Vilsack says while the initial launch of the program is limited to electric cooperatives in Arkansas and North Carolina, additional loans to a wider geographic area are planned. He said the program will promote rural economic growth while supporting national climate action plans.

Job creation

The new energy efficiency loan program is aligned with USDA's Rural Economic Development Energy Efficiency (REDEEE) effort, which is designed to create jobs in the energy efficiency industry and builds upon the work that Rural Development has done in providing funding and support for improving the energy efficiency of single and multi-family housing, businesses, farms, and utility companies.

Vilsack said rural electric cooperatives' experience demonstrates that energy efficiency measures can help address growing electricity demand and significantly reduce energy use. He warned that business and residential consumers may not invest in energy efficiency or renewable energy systems because they lack access to capital or financing. This new loan program is designed to expand access to energy efficiency funding.

The first loans awarded are expected to provide up to $6 million for North Carolina's Roanoke Electric Membership Corporation to finance improvements to HVAC Systems, appliance replacements, and building improvements for an average of 200 residential energy efficiency upgrades per year over four years. The loans are designed to help reduce energy costs and improve the services within Roanoke's service territory, which includes both poverty and out-migration counties.

North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, Inc. will use a loan of $4.6 million to fund geothermal and air source installations, energy efficiency lightning, and weatherization measures, including Energy Star windows and doors, insulation, efficient water heaters, and roofing. Financing will reduce energy costs for Arkansas consumers and improve the services within Arkansas Electric's service territory.

Vilsack said the investments are being provided through USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS), which also administers infrastructure programs that bring broadband, safe drinking water and improved wastewater treatment facilities to rural communities.

The Secretary said the nation's plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and has resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the Administration's leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way by strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities nationwide.

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