Brings Energy Efficiency Projects Within Reach
Most new homes—or even ones built within the last 20 years— have an HVAC system that is relatively efficient, insulation that is up to code, and windows that will keep out the drafts. Those who live in older or mobile homes have to undertake retrofit projects to get a modern-day level of efficiency. Many people cannot afford the up-front costs of energy efficiency projects.
In South Carolina, Ecova and a group of electric cooperatives (co-ops) piloted an on-bill financing program that allowed members to borrow money to complete recommended energy efficiency upgrades, and to pay back the loans through their monthly bills. The project was a first for the co-ops, the local contractor force, the customers, and even the USDA, which provided the loan funding through a Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDLG).
Co-ops serve approximately 12 percent of the U.S. utility market and more than 35 percent of South Carolina electricity consumers. Their members often live in older, inefficient homes and have below-average incomes. While many banks offer a variety of loan programs for home improvement or energy upgrades, people who are not able to obtain these loans find themselves unable to complete bigger projects that could bring greater comfort as well as savings on utility bills.
Ecova, Central and ECSC launched the “Help My House” pilot program to study on-bill financing to homeowners, tying the repayment of the loan to the meter and not the borrower.
Ecova’s Utility Solutions experts, working with Central Electric Power Cooperative, the wholesale power provider for South Carolina’s 20 distribution co-ops, and The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina (ECSC), the co-ops’ trade association, launched the “Help My House” pilot program to study on-bill financing by retrofitting 100 homes and offering 2.5% interest rate loans for up to a 10-year term. Funding came from Central and ECSC and a USDA REDLG loan—a loan available to local utilities that they pass through to their customers for projects that create and retain employment in rural areas. The S.C. pilot program marked the first time this type of loan was used for energy efficiency.
Before the pilot began, Central estimated that a full-scale, fully implemented financing program for all 20 co-ops in the state could…
Save their members $270 million per year in electricity costs and produce up to 1,500 new jobs after just one year.
Eight co-ops, ranging in size from 17,000 meters to over 65,000 meters, agreed to participate in the Help My House pilot.
With a focus on a process that would be good for the contractors, easy for homeowners, and cost-effective for the co-ops, Ecova worked with the participating co-ops to collect data on the costs and savings of efficiency measures such as insulation, replacement heat pumps, and air and duct sealing.
After outreach and comprehensive in-home audits, homeowners were selected to participate in the program based on bill history and the age and general condition of the home and systems.
Once selected, members chose a qualified contractor from a group screened, trained and managed by Ecova. 1st Cooperative Federal Credit Union processed the loan. Upon project completion, energy advisors returned to the site to ensure that measures were installed correctly.
The Help My House pilot was not only well received by members, it exceeded its goal, completing retrofits on 125 homes, more than half of which were mobile homes. More than 350 data fields were collected on each home, and an interim analysis projected that homes selected for the pilot should provide significant efficiency gains.
Over 90% of the homes needed air sealing, duct sealing and attic insulation. Nearly half of the homes had forced-air electric furnaces. HVAC upgrades, which were usually new heat pumps, were the most costly and least cost effective measure, but they passed the positive cash flow cost-effectiveness threshold.
The average loan was over $7,000.
The energy audits predict energy savings to average over 11,000 kWh per year, which is over 35% of the average total electric use.
All of the homes are being monitored for a year in an effort to verify actual savings.
The Help My House pilot demonstrated that a significant number of cost-effective (positive cash flow with a 10-year, 2.5% interest loan) energy efficiency opportunities existed in the homes of South Carolina co-op members. Help My House has also already served as a model for national policy in one respect, as the first program to access REDLG loan money for an on-bill financing program for energy efficiency projects.