Innovative financing program helps South Carolina homeowners save money through energy efficiency retrofits

 

An innovative energy-financing program has helped customers of South Carolina rural electric cooperatives to undertake energy efficiency retrofits for their homes, substantially reducing their energy use and saving money. 

Through on-bill financing (OBF), customers pay back the cost of the retrofit through monthly installments on their electricity bill. This strategy helps to expand access to costly energy retrofits to low-income residents and makes the financial benefits immediately apparent. If monthly energy savings are greater than or equal to the loan repayment, then OBF will be “bill neutral” and result in the same or lower monthly electricity bills . In addition, the financial obligation of OBF is tied to the electricity meter of each house and can be passed on to subsequent owners and residents; thus, customers only pay for the energy retrofits for as long as they live there. 

A preliminary review of South Carolina’s pilot program, called “Help my House,” found that the 125 participating households are projected to save an average of $400 each year after loan repayments. Energy use could be reduced by thirty-five percent, or approximately 11,000 kilowatt-hours each year. The retrofits, which included improvements to insulation, sealing, and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, cost an average of $7,200, with projected simple payback periods of 5.86 years. In addition, ninety-six percent of participants reported satisfaction with the efficiency installations and rated their homes as more comfortable after the retrofit.

The program was launched in 2011 by the Central Electric Power Cooperative, which supplies wholesale electricity to 20 rural South Carolina electric cooperatives, and the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, the co-ops’ marketing and policy partner, with support from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. A full-scale OBF energy-efficiency program implemented by South Carolina cooperatives could save an estimated $270 million per year in electricity costs and create more than 7,000 jobs after 20 years, according to an analysis by Coastal Carolina University.

South Carolina utilities were authorized to offer OBF through the passage of Senate Bill 1096 in 2010. The bill eliminated the need for credit checks by tying the financial obligation to the meter rather than to the individual borrower, and allowed utilities to disconnect power if loan repayments are not made. Utilities in 22 other states offer OBF, with supporting state legislation in Illinois, Hawaii, Oregon, California, Kentucky, Georgia, Michigan, and New York.

In addition, “Help my House” was funded by a $740,000 loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utility Service (RUS), which supports the development of electric, water, and telecommunications services in rural regions. This was the first time RUS funded an energy efficiency initiative, but more cooperatives around the country may follow South Carolina’s example. On July 17 USDA proposed a rule that would create a new RUS program to provide up to $250 million in loans for energy efficiency improvements. The proposed Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program would allow rural electric cooperatives to provide energy efficiency retrofits, including those funded by OBF programs, audits, renewable energy systems, and more. 

For more information: 

Help My House Pilot Program – Summary Report

Environmental and Energy Study Institute – Fact Sheet