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One of the top concerns I hear from working families in Central and Southern Virginia is that the cost of electricity is too high. Especially throughout this tough winter, folks are dealing with brutal energy bills because Virginia state law allows power companies to hike rates before they are approved by the State Corporation Commission. While I do not have jurisdiction over the state, I am working on the federal level to bring down the cost of electricity, particularly for rural households.
The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use in the first place because of efficiency or conservation improvements. That’s why I have joined a bipartisan coalition of Senators and Congressmen in introducing a bill to establish a Rural Energy Savings Program for people served by rural electric cooperatives. The bill, H.R. 4785, is estimated to create 20,000 to 40,000 jobs a year, save Virginia families and businesses money on their electric bills, and conserve energy. The bill has support from both parties in the U.S. House and Senate, and has already been proven to save money for consumers and boost U.S. jobs.
Over 1.1 million people in Virginia are currently served by rural electric cooperatives. Our legislation provides $4.9 billion in loan authority through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service to these electric cooperatives to offer low-interest micro-loans to residential and small business customers for energy-saving retrofit and structural improvements. Put simply, this will pay for Virginians to fix up their houses to save electricity and pay for it by reducing electric bills. The program will be a boon for the domestic manufacturing and construction industries, as energy-efficiency products are almost exclusively manufactured in the United States and installation jobs cannot be exported. The program builds on the existing co-op infrastructure that has strong community ties and a demonstrated 75-year history of on-bill financing for consumer loans.
Trained contractors will conduct energy audits to determine what sorts of energy efficiency improvements are warranted. Typical consumer loans will be $1,500 to $7,000, and will cover sealing, insulation, heat pumps, HVAC systems, boilers, roofs and other improvements that the utility has demonstrated to RUS will produce sufficient savings. Participating consumers repay the co-ops for the installation and material costs through an extra charge on their utility bills within not more than a 10 year window. The energy savings from the upgrade will cover most, if not all, of the cost of the loan. Consumers will save more on their energy bills after the loan is repaid, saving most families hundreds of dollars annually. Every dollar loaned by RUS to the co-ops is repaid to the taxpayers within ten years after the cooperative re-lends the funds to the consumer.
I’m proud to have co-sponsored the legislation along with Congressmen James Clyburn (D-SC), Ed Whitfield (R-KY), and John Spratt (D-SC) and Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tim Johnson (D-SD), and Michael Bennett (D-CO).
These efficiency programs will not only create jobs locally, but also make our rural homes more sustainable and cost efficient in the long run. I’m proud to be part of this bipartisan bill because saving on energy costs and creating clean energy jobs is something both parties can agree on.
Please feel free to contact me to share your concerns and ideas. You may call 1-888-4-TOM4US (1-888-486-6487); write to 1520 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; or visit www.perriello.house.gov to sign up for my weekly e-newsletter.