Posts Tagged ‘Energy Efficiency’

Reaching for Virginia’s clean power potential

Thursday, October 8th, 2015 - posted by hannah
Virginia has an tremendous opportunity to meet its Clean Power Plan goals by expanding clean energy. But it is critical for Virginians to engage as the state develops its compliance plan.

Virginia has an tremendous opportunity to meet its Clean Power Plan goals by expanding clean energy. But it is critical for Virginians to engage as the state develops its compliance plan.

In a commentary in Capitol Connections magazine out this week, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia characterizes the job of meeting new climate change pollution reduction goals this way: “In 1962, President Kennedy challenged our nation to go the moon by 1969. If America can get to the moon in 7 years, emitting one-third less air pollution in 15 years is surely within our grasp.”

A major goal of Appalachian Voices’ and our partners’ in recent years has been to set Virginia on the track toward a safe, reliable and affordable energy future, which has meant working hard to shake our state out of the status quo. Virginia has never had a binding state renewable energy standard, and advocates have long stressed the need for both utility-owned and non-utility projects to harness clean power on a large scale.

So where does the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan put Virginia? The rule represents the first requirement for fighting climate change by cutting pollution from power plants. If we use it well, the Clean Power Plan can incentivize energy efficiency programs and drive growth in solar — two ways to ensure a more secure grid and shrink bills for electric customers. But there are possible pitfalls too.

One way in which a national plan aiming for a 32 percent reduction of carbon pollution from power plants helps Virginia is by the signal it sends. It’s a further indication as to the direction the market is going. There’s a wrinkle, however, that has some renewable energy advocates worried, and it’s very relevant in Virginia: the role of new natural gas-fired power plants.

One reason for concern about possible increased gas use in Virginia is that our state’s emissions target is fairly easy to achieve. Though one wouldn’t know it from the histrionics of some politicians who oppose the standards. In a troubling development that threatens to derail Virginia’s compliance process, some state legislators are using dire-sounding warnings about electricity reliability and costs — the same red herring arguments that surfaced last year — to attempt to take away the McAuliffe administration’s authority to implement a state plan. Some insist on General Assembly approval of Virginia’s implementation plan.

The adverse effects if Virginia dramatically increases its use of natural gas are clear: higher demand for a fuel with a lifecycle that’s harmful to communities and dangerous to the environment, from the risks to water from fracking, to the impacts of dirty pipelines, to the methane released during production and transportation. More investments in a fossil fuel source are also bound to diminish the incentive for utilities to incorporate renewable energy projects into their plans. Think of how much solar power Virginia could build for the same price as 8,000 megawatts worth of new natural gas plants.

When it comes to the cost of electricity, a report by Public Citizen shows that the Clean Power Plan can cut Virginians’ electricity bills by between 7.7 and 8.4 percent by 2030, and that greater reductions are possible when well-designed energy efficiency programs are launched — programs that will also boost the economy by creating outsource-proof jobs.

Unfortunately, these affordability conclusions are in spite of and not because of Virginia’s enactment of a so-called “rate freeze” law, which is apparent in two major ways: the “freeze” goes into effect now and expires in 2020, and it turns out that the law creates a rate floor rather than a rate ceiling by blocking increases to base rates but not increases to cover infrastructure costs (which are the exact kind of costs that would ostensibly result from the need to comply with a pollution rule.)

That action is an example of why it will be so critical for Virginians to engage during this upcoming 2016 legislative session. We can press our elected officials to take steps that advance a vision of safe, affordable and reliable energy if we all take the time to participate.

Stay connected and watch for updates as we support the McAuliffe administration’s role in setting Virginia’s compliance plan, and if you have not yet provided a comment to officials about our state’s approach to the Clean Power Plan, do so here or via by the Oct. 13 deadline.

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Weatherizing Tennessee homes gets results

Friday, October 2nd, 2015 - posted by Amy Kelly
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero (at podium) launches KEEM with homeowner Dorothy Ware (far right), who has already saved 25 percent on her electric bill, with more energy efficiency improvements to come.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero (at podium) launches KEEM with homeowner Dorothy Ware (far right), who has already saved 25 percent on her electric bill, with more energy efficiency improvements to come.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which supplies power to 155 utility companies in the Southeast, has released a second round of grants for energy efficiency makeovers. Cleveland Utilities in Tennessee will be another Appalachian energy-provider receiving millions of dollars to retrofit its customers’ homes. The funding stems from TVA’s settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Act in 2011 for violations of the Clean Air Act.

In September, the Knoxville Utility Board and the Knox County Community Action Committee launched the Knoxville Extreme Energy Makeover (KEEM) program with $15 million from the first round of TVA grant funding. KEEM will be providing energy efficiency upgrades to 1,200 homes over the next two years in the area.

The program promises to bring a host of benefits to the community. Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently released a summary of findings on the effect of weatherization assistance programs nationwide. According to the summary, “Weatherization provides cost-effective energy savings to American families, provides additional health and safety benefits, supports jobs, and provides a stable platform for additional investment in energy efficiency.”

In 2010 alone, with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, weatherization supported 28,000 jobs nationwide and generated savings for residents amounting to a whopping $1.1 billion. Not only did the influx of capital significantly improve the economy, the nation’s carbon footprint shrunk by 7,382,000 metric tons.

As we reported previously, clean energy jobs in Tennessee are growing at three times the rate of overall job growth in the state. Appalachian Voices is working with utilities, businesses and other nonprofit partners in east Tennessee and western North Carolina to promote job creation and energy savings in Appalachia by establishing programs provide up-front, debt-free funding assistance so residents can enjoy energy-efficiency home improvements sooner, rather than later.

To find out how you can help get your utility on board, contact Amy Kelly today!

>> Get a free self-audit, $10 gift card to Home Depot and energy savings kit through TVA’s Energy Right Solutions program. (Not sure if you’re in TVA’s service territory? Check this map.)

A Tennessee homecoming for energy savings

Thursday, September 17th, 2015 - posted by Amy Kelly


My family has been in Tennessee since before it was a state, and long before the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining significantly altered our landscape, compromised our waters and jeopardized the self-reliance of our people.

Re-opening Appalachian Voices’ Tennessee office in Knoxville this fall has been a homecoming for me in several ways. I am back in Tennessee after a stint in western North Carolina and Peru. My journey revealed how ingenuity can take root in often overlooked places, where environmental injustice is the prevailing theme. I am coming home to help tap the existing ingenuity in the area to strengthen the communities of Appalachian Tennessee.

As the Tennessee Energy Savings Outreach Coordinator, I’ll be working with communities served by rural electric cooperatives to institute a program that can save residents up to 40 percent on their electric bills. By doing so, we will be saving money, making our homes more healthy and comfortable, and helping grow our local economies. Not only that, energy efficiency also reduces our reliance on burning coal for electricity—the single largest contributor in the U.S. to carbon pollution and climate change.

The Southeast has 29% of the nation’s energy savings potential. So there’s lots of room for improvement, but many folks don’t have the means for to make energy efficiency upgrades in their homes. That’s where electric co-ops, as member-owned utilities, can help.

Last week, I met a family in Jefferson City that is struggling to make ends meet. They want to insulate their home so they can reduce their heating bill in the winter, but they can’t afford the cost. Energy efficiency programs like on-bill financing would help them, and they have joined our campaign to support the local co-op in offering the program.

Programs like Help My House in South Carolina and How$mart Kentucky are already demonstrating how these energy efficiency programs can significantly improve quality of life and economic development. Now, it’s Tennessee’s turn.

I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at amy.kelly [at]

We can do this together!

Saving Energy, One Utility at a Time

Monday, August 10th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion
Violet Scholar, a volunteer from Lansing, N.C., explains on-bill financing and energy efficiency at a tabling event.

Violet Scholar, a volunteer from Lansing, N.C., explains on-bill financing and energy efficiency at a tabling event.

Our Energy Savings for Appalachia team has been campaigning to bring energy efficiency to the High Country of North Carolina, a region that spends nearly three times more of their income on electric bills than the average American.

The campaign’s current focus is encouraging Blue Ridge Electric Membership Cooperative to offer an on-bill financing program to make home energy upgrades available to their members of all income levels. On July 29, we hosted a press conference and event in Boone, N.C., where community members spoke about how energy savings has reduced their electric bills, and thanked Blue Ridge Electric for taking the necessary steps to consider an on-bill finance program.

To date, the team has gathered the signatures of more than 1,000 residents and 20 businesses and service agencies in support of the program. Learn more at

Community Rallies Around Need for Energy Efficiency in the High Country

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by jamie

Over 1,000 residents support greater energy efficiency investments to grow economy, lower energy costs

Rory McIlmoil, Energy Policy Director,
Sarah Kellogg, North Carolina Field Organizer,
(828) 262-1500

Boone, N.C. — More than thirty local residents, service organizations and local government officials gathered for an event Wednesday evening at the Jones House in Boone to raise awareness about the need for greater investments in energy efficiency in the High Country. Speakers included: Zach Dixon, Brooke Walker, Violet Scholar and Mary Ruble — local residents who need or have benefitted from home energy improvements; Sam Zimmerman of Sunny Day Homes, a local business that offers energy efficiency contracting services; and, Melissa Soto of WAMY Community Action Agency, which provides free weatherization and heating improvements for qualified low-income residents.

Appalachian Voices, a regional environmental non-profit organization promoting electric utility “on-bill energy efficiency finance” programs, organized the event with the support of local residents. On-bill financing offers residents a way to pay for energy efficiency upgrades to their homes through their electric bills using the savings gained as a result of the energy improvements. During the event, Appalachian Voices presented a folder containing more than 1,000 signatures by High Country residents and letters from more than 20 local businesses and service agencies supporting an increase in energy efficiency investments through on-bill finance programs. According to Appalachian Voices, such programs provide the best option for addressing high energy costs related to poorly weatherized homes and old, inefficient appliances, and for alleviating the impact that energy costs have on low- to moderate-income residents.

The event closed with a call for local electric utilities, government agencies, service organizations, businesses and residents to identify and invest in solutions such as on-bill financing for lowering energy costs, alleviating poverty and creating new jobs in the High Country.

“Energy waste isn’t just an environmental problem, it’s also an economic problem,” said Rory McIlmoil, energy policy director for Appalachian Voices. “Here in the High Country we see a high incidence of poverty, lower-than-average family income, a housing stock that is mostly decades old and in need of efficiency improvements, and energy costs that for some folks accounts for nearly half of their income in the winter months. Together those issues are having a negative economic impact on the area, and this is a problem that we need to work together to address.”

To illustrate the need for home energy improvements and the benefits such improvements can have on local residents, Appalachian Voices hosted the High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest, which ended last February with three residents receiving free efficiency upgrades. Zach Dixon, a resident of Boone and the grand prize winner of the contest, described the benefits he’s received, saying, “Before winning the contest and getting my attic and floors insulated, I had so much heat escaping right through the attic, and I was paying as much as $200 a month on my electricity bills. Just having that insulation has made a major difference.”

An analysis of the three winning homes was conducted by ResiSpeak — a Cary, N.C.-based utility data collection and analysis service. Daniel Kauffman, general manager of ResiSpeak, summarized the results by saying, “Based on the few months of data since the retrofits, the homes appear to be consuming between ten and thirty percent less electricity than they were before. We will have a clearer picture of the energy savings due to the retrofits after this coming winter, and if current trends continue we should see significant savings.”

In addition to the services WAMY provides, much is already being done in the region to assist families who struggle with their energy bills in the winter or are in need of home energy improvements. For instance, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp.’s donation-based Operation RoundUp program provides bill payment assistance for residents who are unable to pay their energy bills in the winter. Community service organizations such as WeCAN help distribute these funds, while other organizations provide free firewood for winter heating needs. Many High Country residents have taken steps to lower their own energy costs. Despite all of these efforts, the fundamental lack of financial support remains largely unaddressed, leaving thousands of residents without the means for improving their home’s energy efficiency.

Speaking at the event, WAMY’s Executive Director Melissa Soto said “WAMY can weatherize homes for individuals that fall below 200% of [the U.S. poverty line]; however, there is always a long waiting list and never enough funding. There is also a huge gap between those that qualify for our services and those that can afford to make the improvements themselves. That’s why an on-bill financing program is so exciting — it gives those in the middle income brackets an opportunity to improve their quality of life.”

To which Mary Ruble of Boone, who is also a Blue Ridge Electric member, added, “I’m one of those that falls in the gap. I’ve been able to pay for some improvements myself, but not for everything that needs to be done. To me, on-bill financing is a win for all of us, and I’m really thankful that Blue Ridge is exploring ways they can help.”

“New solutions are required that provide comprehensive energy improvements while greatly increasing the level of investment in residential energy efficiency in our communities,” concluded McIlmoil. “We’re already seeing steps being taken to achieve this with the recent announcement by Blue Ridge Electric that they are considering developing an on-bill financing program for their members. We greatly appreciate this and are extremely encouraged by their leadership in tackling the issue.”

Appalachian Voices and local residents expressed hope that the event would spark a conversation throughout the High Country about how to develop more effective programs for addressing the problem of high energy costs. More information about on-bill financing and the Energy Savings for the High Country campaign can be found at

Virginia Utilities Release Generation Plans

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Eliza Laubach

Appalachian Power Company and Dominion Power released their electric power generation plans this July. While APC released a comprehensive energy generation plan plotting the next 15 years, Dominion released a short-term plan with different options emphasizing solar, wind, nuclear or natural gas for the long-term. Dominion commented that, before committing to long-term goals, it awaits the August release of a final federal rule to cut carbon emissions from domestic power plants.

APC plans to substantially increase their clean energy capacity up to 22 percent from the current one percent of wind, solar and efficiency sources. Following a region-wide trend, APC will also increase its natural gas generation by building new plants or retrofitting coal-fired ones. Coal power generation will decrease about 20 percent. Dominion also pledged to decrease coal generation, but suggested that this will cause a capacity shortfall with expected increases in demand by 2020.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is calling for 21 percent of Virginia’s energy needs to be met with renewables and efficiency by 2030 and a 10 percent total energy consumption decrease by 2020.

Virginians’ electric bills could shrink under Clean Power Plan

Monday, July 20th, 2015 - posted by hannah
Appalachian Voices' members deliver a petition supporting a strong Clean Power Plan to the office of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Appalachian Voices’ members deliver a petition supporting a strong Clean Power Plan to the office of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. A new report from Public Citizen underscores the economic benefits of investing in energy efficiency to comply with the plan.

A new report from Public Citizen’s Climate Program details how the EPA’s soon-to-be finalized standards on carbon pollution could lower Virginians’ power bills.

The strategy for achieving this benefit is simple: invest in cost-effective energy efficiency programs first.

You may be wondering why yet another document is necessary to make the obvious case for improving energy efficiency. After all, Virginia already has a state goal of reducing retail electricity 10 percent by 2020.

But Public Citizen’s report is so important now — just a few weeks ahead of the final Clean Power Plan’s release — because the EPA’s detractors continue to argue that the plan will be very costly for Virginians.

Ever since the EPA announced the proposal last summer, misconceptions and red herring arguments have circulated, some stranger and more exaggerated than others. At a committee meeting in Richmond, for example, an opponent of the plan made the mind-boggling claim that more premature deaths will potentially result from the standards than would be prevented.

Beyond baseless arguments about negative health impacts, opponents of the Clean Power Plan weave a tangled web when they attack the standards on the basis of rising energy costs.

As the report points out, rates are not what consumer advocates should be most concerned with in this case. Customers’ utility costs are determined by the price they pay per megawatt hour and their usage. According to the report, Virginians can expect to see electricity bills go down on average about $147 annually.

Before anyone decides how to spend that extra $147, note that that figure is likely conservative, and monthly savings for customers may be greater for a couple of reasons. First, that number was arrived at using the EPA’s estimates of what it costs to run programs that save energy, and the EPA indicates that those estimates are 60 to 100 percent higher than they should be given more recent studies that show energy efficiency can be done for much less.

Second, it doesn’t consider the cost of energy efficiency gains coming down as economies of scale are reached, treating efficiency instead as a tree from which fruit gets harder to collect once the low-hanging ones are already picked. So it is quite possible that customers will save much more through participating in efficiency programs, eliminating the need or desire by utilities to construct new natural gas and nuclear facilities.

An introductory summary as well as the full Public Citizen report are online. This Media Matters piece from last year breaks down the myths and the facts about the Clean Power Plan, which will be finalized next month.

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Eliminating poverty housing with efficient and alternative energy use

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015 - posted by eliza
A group of volunteers for Ashe County Habitat for Humanity lays a timber frame on their first house, which was built with energy efficiency and alternative energy to lessen the burden of utility bills on people living in poverty.

A group of volunteers for Ashe County Habitat for Humanity lays a timber frame on their first house, which was built with energy efficiency and alternative energy to lessen the burden of utility bills on people living in poverty. Photo by Gerry Tygielski.

When North Carolina’s Ashe County Habitat for Humanity formed five years ago, seven people, some who live off the grid, came together to study how to best build a home.

They made a commitment not only to affordability, but also to energy savings, and the board voted to build all Ashe County Habitat houses to maximize efficiency and place an emphasis on alternative energy.

“The benefits of energy efficiency fell into the basic requirements of the Habitat ministry,” says Gerry Tygielski, construction chairman for Ashe County Habitat for Humanity, which is founded on a “focus to eliminate poverty housing.”

To get a Habitat house, one must have an inherent need, be fiscally responsible, take part in the building process and take courses on house maintenance. The motive of Ashe County Habitat is to not only lower the cost of the mortgage, but also the cost of living in the house. Almost one in seven families in Ashe County live below the poverty line, according to the most recent census data.

“This past winter, we heard of some people having heating bills of $500 a month,” Tygielski says. “When you’re renting for another $500, that can bankrupt some people.”

The first Ashe Habitat house is a net-zero building, meaning that the energy produced by alternative energy on the house is equal to the energy used in the house. The average cost of heating and powering the house is $50 each month, says Tygielski. The second Ashe County Habitat house is currently underway and will be near, but not quite, zero net energy, due to budget constraints, but Tygielski says that they will be close since the price of solar has gone down.

The house is built with insulated concrete form, a novel construction material that uses what we commonly know as styrofoam, and has a higher insulation and fire rating than conventionally built homes with timber, insulation and drywall. It eliminates air leaks, which, on average, amounts to the air that escapes through an open window, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Insulated concrete foam is not widely used, but it is becoming more popular for constructing basements.

A group of volunteers for Ashe County Habitat for Humanity set foam blocks into place. Concrete will be poured over the blocks to create an airtight wall.

A group of volunteers for Ashe County Habitat for Humanity set foam blocks into place. Concrete will be poured over the blocks to create an airtight wall. Photo by Gerry Tygielski.

High-quality storm windows also reduce air leakage, a metal roof reduces the amount of energy absorbed in the attic and solar panels provide a renewable energy source. But arguably the most efficient aspect of the house is the heating system, a geothermal heat pump. A six-foot trench, a pond or a well accesses the water table at Earth’s year-round internal temperature of 55 degrees. A compressor extracts heat from the water to heat air and pump it into the house. A conventional heat pump extracts heat from the air outdoors down to five degrees.

In northwestern North Carolina’s High Country, harsh winters are commonplace and days with temperatures below five degrees are increasing.

Conventional electric heat pumps are three times more efficient than a gas or oil furnace, Tygielski says. A geothermal heat pump is three times more efficient than an electric pump, reducing a $300-400 heating bill to $100.

“There is a premium you pay for having that opportunity, but it pays for itself so quickly that it’s a good investment,” he says. Their initial estimate says that the extra costs of making the first Ashe County Habitat house will be paid back in 10 years through lower utility bills, mainly due to greatly reduced heating costs.

This concept has a similar ring to on-bill financing, a utility-led program that provides loans for energy efficiency upgrades. The repayments, made on a homeowner’s utility bill, are structured so that they are equal to or less than the amount of energy savings resulting from the upgrades.

John Parker, an electrician who founded Parker Electric, donated his time to install solar panels on both Ashe County Habitat for Humanity's houses.

John Parker, an electrician who founded Parker Electric, donated his time to install solar panels on both Ashe County Habitat for Humanity’s houses. Photo by Gerry Tygielski.

Tygielski recognizes that there is a lack of public understanding about the basics of energy efficiency and that something can be done about high heating bills. Not to mention “people are busy working themselves to death to pay the bills,” he says. “They’re not in the position to be investing in home improvements.” He says an on-bill financing program gives people a chance to do something they probably would never be able to do otherwise.

In the last two years at least six people in Ashe County have been referred to Tygielski that cannot afford their utility bills. His response is to direct them to a Habitat for Humanity house application. Within a year, he may also be able to direct people to apply for an on-bill finance program offered by Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp, an electric co-op that serves the High Country.

The electric cooperative is currently looking into on-bill finance program designs. If you are a member, please sign our letter of support to Blue Ridge Electric!

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Energy Efficiency Made Affordable

Monday, July 13th, 2015 - posted by Cody Burchett

Giving Credit to Energy Efficiency

The Warehouse for Energy Efficiency Loans is a self-sustaining lending platform for home energy financing. WHEEL helps states leverage funds from public and private investors to increase the number of low-interest loans available to homeowners through the ReHome Loan Program for energy efficiency upgrades.

The low interest rates offered by the program create an incentive for homeowners to make the most energy-efficient choices, says Colin Bishopp, who oversees WHEEL, and the customer’s monthly payments more closely resemble amount of money saved on their utility bill. WHEEL is currently operating in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, and will soon launch in Virginia, Florida and Indiana. Visit:

Solarize Success in WV

A grassroots effort to make solar panels more affordable for homeowners has taken off in the Southeast. Through the Solarize model, homeowners interested in installing rooftop solar can join together to apply for discounts, free energy audits and solar panel assessments.

Using this model, a solar cooperative in West Virginia installed seven new systems last fall, adding about 36 kilowatts of solar power to Fayetteville, W.Va. Now, two solar cooperatives in Wheeling and Morgantown are accepting applications, while cooperatives in Fayette and Monroe County filled their membership, with 30 and more than 80 members signed up, respectively. Sixteen Solarize programs in North Carolina and eight in Virginia have run or are currently running, while three programs in South Carolina are receiving applications.

Access to Energy Savings

Financing programs are helping homeowners invest in upgrades that make residences more comfortable while lowering electric bills and reducing a home’s carbon footprint. Read more here.

Another Community Solar Farm Sprouts

Leasing solar panels provides rural electric cooperatives with a way to incorporate solar into their energy portfolio, and for homeowners to invest in solar, with lessened costs to both. The cooperative builds a solar farm and offers a lease on a panel or half-panel to members. Those members receive credit on their utility bill for the energy generated by their leased panel.

Duck River Electric Membership Cooperative in southern Tennessee funded a 26-kilowatt solar farm in 2012 and members have already become partial owners of 87 of its 108 panels. Once the rest are sold, the cooperative plans to double the solar farm’s capacity, says Steve Odell of Duck River EMC. In April, the Appalachian Regional Commission granted BARC Electric Cooperative in rural Virginia $500,000 to build a 250 to 350-kilowatt solar farm and a community learning center that will offer leasing options. Electric cooperatives in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina are using this model as well.

Energy Savings Launch in Harlan County, Ky.

The town of Benham launched an on-bill energy efficiency financing program in April. Benham$aves, modeled after Mountain Association for Economic Development’s How$mart program, will pay for energy efficiency upgrades upfront, and members will repay the loan on their utility bill with their energy savings. A resolution passed by the Benham Power Board formally recognizes community partners including Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Appalshop and MACED.

Turning down the heat: A collaborative effort to reduce energy bills

Friday, July 10th, 2015 - posted by rory

This piece was co-authored by Jen Weiss, a senior finance analyst at the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The North Carolina On-Bill Working Group seeks to facilitate the development of programs that educate homeowners about energy efficiency and put financing easily within reach for all income levels.

The North Carolina On-Bill Working Group seeks to facilitate the development of programs that educate homeowners about energy efficiency and put financing easily within reach for all income levels.

There’s no doubt about it. June was HOT.

While extreme temperatures can make outdoor activities unbearable, they can also send electric utility bills skyrocketing across most of North Carolina and place high demands on the state’s electric utility infrastructure.

As heating and cooling equipment are pushed to the max, the demands are made even more significant due to inefficiently insulated and poorly weatherized houses that lose cool air as quickly as it is generated. But the cost to weatherize a home can make energy efficiency improvements unaffordable — particularly for homeowners who are already burdened with basic housing costs that can outweigh their limited income.

With the aim of providing these homeowners with a solution that will reduce their energy bills and improve home comfort, a collaborative working group was recently been formed by leading energy advisors in the Southeast. Working with multiple stakeholders across the state, the North Carolina On-Bill Working Group seeks to facilitate the development of programs that educate homeowners about energy efficiency and put financing within reach for all income levels.

The Challenge: High Energy Costs

High energy costs can be particularly challenging for lower income Americans. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average North Carolinian spends $3,714 annually on energy costs. With a median household income of $46,334, this equates to 8 percent of the average residents’ annual income. This is nearly three times the national average of 2.7 percent in 2012. In rural communities where median household income tends to be much lower, averaging $22,000, energy expenditures as a percentage of household income can be as much as 17 percent or higher.

This situation is only going to get worse as it is predicted that energy costs will continue to rise in coming years. Energy efficiency improvements for North Carolinians can alleviate the impact of current and future energy costs. Unfortunately, many homeowners cannot afford the upfront cost to weatherize their properties or purchase energy-efficient appliances that will reduce their energy bills. North Carolina residents of all income levels need access to streamlined and simple energy efficiency finance programs that can help make energy more affordable.

A Solution: Utility On-Bill Programs for Energy Efficiency Financing

Fortunately, proven models exist that expand access to financing for energy efficiency improvements for everyone, including people who may not qualify for loans under traditional underwriting criteria. Known as “on-bill” programs, these financing models provide a mechanism whereby the upfront cost of energy saving improvements and equipment is funded by the electric utility or a third-party financier, and ratepayers are able to pay down the cost through a monthly payment on their electric bill.

Depending on the structure of these programs and the initial source of capital used to finance the program, on-bill programs offer a number advantages to participants, particularly low-income consumers. Advantages include performance-based repayment schedules that align the monthly payback with projected savings achieved, creating a net savings for the consumer. In other words, even with the new charge added to their electric bill, the customer will still pay less on an annual basis than they would have without the improvements. Additionally, on-bill programs can be structured so that they are available to renters and businesses.

Partners in Efficiency: North Carolina’s Rural Electric Member Cooperatives

Together, North Carolina’s 26 electric member cooperatives (co-ops) serve roughly 937,000 members, provide electric service to rural areas in 93 of the state’s 100 counties, and account for 23.7 percent of total electric sales in the state. Many of the state’s electric co-ops and municipal utilities serve communities characterized by ratepayers with lower than average median household incomes and limited access to low-cost financing.

A 2014 study of census data found that these utilities serve the highest concentrations of low-income communities across the Southeast, making co-ops and municipal utilities key stakeholders and powerful allies in addressing this issue. Dedicated to improving the lives and communities of those they serve, many co-ops have developed or are exploring energy efficiency finance programs. It is the goal of the North Carolina On-Bill Working Group to support all of North Carolina’s electric co-ops who are interested in developing an on-bill program for their own members.

Benefits to North Carolina Residents

  • Expanded access to capital for ratepayers at all income levels including homeowners, renters and businesses.
  • Performance-based repayment schedules that align the monthly payback with energy savings.
  • Low- to no-cost opportunity to improve energy performance and home comfort.

Benefits to North Carolina Utilities

  • Reduced complaints from customer regarding high bills and problems paying electric bills.
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction.
  • Reduced need to build new generation facilities by reducing peak demand.
  • Helps to achieve energy efficiency and/or renewable energy goals

About the North Carolina On-Bill Finance Working Group

The North Carolina On-Bill Finance Working Group — a partnership of Appalachian Voices, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Finance Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance — has been formed to work with North Carolina co-ops and other community stakeholders to provide the education and support resources needed to establish on-bill programs and expand access to energy efficiency programs for residents across the state.

As the Working Group ramps up its efforts, we will be reaching out to electric co-ops, community partners and other stakeholders to identify the needs and challenges faced by co-ops, and to work toward solutions that facilitate the development of new on-bill programs throughout North Carolina. If you are interested in learning more about the North Carolina On-Bill Working Group or supporting our efforts, send an email to