Feds offer rural efficiency loans

The Department of Agriculture is starting a new loan program to promote energy efficiency.

The department’s program, announced on Wednesday, will provide up to $250 million for rural electric cooperatives to lend to businesses and households to retrofit their homes and facilities.

That should save people money on their home and office energy bills, the department said.

“Ultimately, reducing energy use helps pump capital back into rural communities,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “This program is designed to meet the unique needs of consumers and businesses to encourage energy efficiency retrofitting projects across rural America."

The loan program is part of President Obama’s climate action plan. In the face of inaction from Congress, the Obama administration has repeatedly turned to using executive action to combat climate change and increase the use of energy efficient technology.

Rural electric co-ops supported the USDA's effort.

Jo Ann Emerson, the head of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, said in a statement that the decision would “allow co-ops to help their members overcome the biggest hurdle to energy efficiency upgrades: cost.”

The administration notes that energy efficient retrofitting can shrink home energy usage by as much as 40 percent, but people often delay the effort because of the high up-front cost.

Existing USDA programs to promote renewable energy are a part of the farm bill, which is currently being debated by lawmakers in Congress.

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