The House passed legislation Thursday that aims to help rural America retrofit homes and small businesses to make them more energy efficient.
The Rural Energy Savings Program bill, which passed 240-172, provides nearly $5 billion worth of loans to utilities in rural areas. The utilities would then offer loans to its residential and small-business customers. Customers would repay the loans over 10 years through their electric bill. The program will be administered through the Agriculture Department.
The bill was sponsored by Majority Whip Clyburn, who touted the bill on the House floor after passage.
“This bipartisan, bicameral legislation is first and foremost a jobs bill, and it is based on common-sense ideas that can be done in a fiscally responsible manner that will protect taxpayers and the Treasury,” Clyburn said. “Let me emphasize that this is a voluntary loan program, not a grant or rebate, and the loans are paid back to the federal treasury.”
The trade group representing rural utilities, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, praised the bill’s passage as well. “It represents an opportunity for many members to control their electric bills by improving the efficiency of their homes and farms,” said Glenn English, the association’s CEO, in a statement. “It should provide a huge benefit to those who are struggling to meet their monthly bills in difficult economic circumstances.”
The loans issued will be between $3,000 and $7,500 and will cover sealing, insulation, heating and cooling systems, boilers, roofs and other similar building improvements.
CBO scored the bill as budget-neutral because the utilities are required to pay back the loans even if its customers cannot, a spokesperson for the majority whip said. A similar bill that passed the House in May, called Home Star, cost $6 billion.
Unlike Thursday’s bill, Home Star is a program offering homeowners rebates — not loans — to retrofit their homes to make them more energy efficient. Since Home Star is not a loan program, Republicans charged it was yet another bill Democrats passed that they can’t pay for. And some Republicans charged Thursday that this latest bill — dubbed Rural Star — is unnecessary given Home Star had passed already.
Rural Star now joins Home Star in waiting for action in the Senate. Home Star has been included in legislation Senate Majority Leader Reid has attempted to bring to the floor, but given it has been attached to more controversial energy legislation; he has not been able to get 60 votes needed for passage. Reid has said he hopes to bring at least Home Star and a measure incentivizing the use of natural gas in vehicles to the floor before the end of the year, but much remains in flux and will largely be determined by the outcome of the midterm elections.
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