July 22nd, 2013
By Michael W. Kahn | ECT Staff Writer
Electric Co-Op Today
Energy efficiency upgrades are great—if you have the money. That’s the stumbling block for a lot of people.
But a project in South Carolina proved that electric cooperatives can loan that money to their members, and collect it back through a charge on their monthly bills.
That was the premise of Help My House. Eight distribution co-ops, a transmission co-op, and the statewide teamed up for the pilot on-bill financing project.
Owners of 125 homes received 10-year loans at 2.5 percent interest for energy efficiency improvements. The loans averaged $7,684 with the money coming from the Agriculture Department’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program.
"We deliberately went and looked at measures that would pay back quickly," said Lindsey Smith, director of public and member relations at The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. That’s why 91 percent of the homes received attic insulation, and more than 80 percent got HVAC upgrades.
"We were modeling these homes very conservatively so that the savings people gained on an annual basis would more than cover their loan payments. And we wanted, in an ideal scenario, for them to be putting money in their pockets," Smith said.
The average home cut electricity use by a third. Payback time is averaging 6.5 years. With the improvements expected to last at least 15 years, annual savings for the average home once the loan is paid off will rise to more than $1,100 per year.
Cash in hand is great. But Mike Smith, manager of energy programs at Central Electric Power Cooperative, said there’s more to it.
"They’re getting something else out of it besides the money—whether it’s comfort, or control over their energy use," said Smith.
Columbia-based Central Electric pays more for power during peaks, and Help My House helped with that—particularly in the winter.
"There was always benefit," Smith said. "It might have been 27 percent peak reduction in the summertime. In the wintertime our peak reduction was over 40 percent."
While the pilot project is over, four South Carolina co-ops now offer on-bill financing programs. Mike Smith said it’s not just a way to reduce energy use, but "a service to their members to be more in control of their energy consumption."
Help My House was strictly residential. But there’s a school of thought that businesses could also benefit from an on-bill financing program.
In the Touchstone Energy® 2012 National Survey on the Cooperative Difference, commercial members were asked what barriers were keeping them from making energy efficiency changes. One-third cited limited or no finances.
"They really have no access to capital," said Tom Laing, director of market research at TSE Services, which conducts the annual survey.
Though they’re short on cash they’re long on willingness. Eighty-one percent of businesses questioned said they’d be very or somewhat likely to invest in energy efficiency projects if there are no upfront costs.
"The will is there," Laing said, "it’s just the barriers are too high."
South Carolina co-ops based their pilot on the model first proposed in 2010’s Rural Energy Savings Program Act (RESPA), national legislation that would have made nearly $5 billion in low-interest USDA funds available for residential energy efficiency.
RESPA drew bipartisan support and passed the U.S. House in September 2010, but failed to reach the Senate floor. A similar program is contained in legislation being considered this year by the House and Senate.
- On-Bill Financing Helps Members Save
- S.C. Efficiency Plan Draws Interest
- South Carolina Efficiency Pays Off
A final summary report on Help My House is available as a PDF here.
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Middle School in Irving is largest net zero energy school in the nation! Beautiful too…
What if a school could be designed and built to produce as much energy (on site) as it consumes from the electric grid? What if there was little or no need for electricity for use of air-conditioning, lighting or power? Limited gas bill for heating, hot water, or cooking food and no water bill for ground irrigation?
Texas is known for the Alamo, spicy Tex-Mex food, big Stetson hats, and now it also has the nation’s largest net-zero public school. Welcoming its first students this past fall, the Lady Bird Johnson Middle School in Irving Texas is a 152,000 square foot facility that produces as much energy as it uses thanks to wind turbines, solar panels, and a slew of the most advanced green technologies and building techniques. Dallas-based firm Corgan Associates led the design team, which incorporated a variety of experts to create a school that serves not only as a classroom, but also as a teacher of sustainability and energy-efficiency.
Solar will light nation’s largest net-zero school
When Lady Bird Johnson Middle School in Irving, Texas, opens in August, a 583-kilowatt solar photovoltaic installation will help to make it the largest net-zero school in the country.
Net-zero means the school will produce as much energy as it uses, drawing nothing from the communal electricity grid.
"We’re really excited," said Scott Layne, assistant superintendent in charge of operations for the Irving Independent School District. "We know we’re going to be the first net-zero school in Texas. And we may be the only middle school in the country."
The school will open in August with 800 students and is built to hold up to 1,000, Layne said.
Lady Bird Johnson Middle School – Irving, Texas