New nationwide initiative expands to help rural residents lower energy costs

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Tuesday that they would be enacting nationally a program that has previously helped rural South Carolina farmers improve their energy efficiency.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack pledged that the government will put $250 million into a new program that offer loans to rural farms and communities in order to make energy efficient upgrades to their properties.

The recipients of the USDA loans would then be able to repay the government over time through the money saved on their energy bills, eventually reaping more savings in the long run after the loans are paid off.

The USDA program is modelled after a state-run initiative in South Carolina that provided the same terms to its rural population in an attempt to lessen the state's impact on the national grid. The program helped over 25 homes through the state-sponsored Black River Electric Cooperative, which provided new insulation along with other energy efficient features to lower income residents.

"Most people don't have the money to just go out and put new insulation on their homes. If money's tight, that's not one of those things you're just going to go out and do," said Sherri Woodward, a spokeswoman for Black River, told the Associated Press.

The proposed plan calls for energy audits from certified home inspectors to determine if potential candidates would benefit from the energy upgrades and save enough to repay their loans without increasing their current bills.

For homeowners at any income level, a home inspection is the first step they should take to determine which ways they can practice better energy efficiency to lower their monthly bills.