The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to provide rural electric cooperatives up to $250 million to lend to business and residential customers for energy-efficiency improvements. In addition to energy audits, the loans may be used for upgrades to heating, lighting and insulation, and conversions to more efficient or renewable energy sources.

“Energy-efficiency retrofitting can shrink home energy use by 40%, saving money for consumers and helping rural utilities manage their electric load more efficiently,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Ultimately, reducing energy use helps pump capital back into rural communities. This program is designed to meet the unique needs of consumers and businesses to encourage energy efficiency retrofitting projects across rural America.”

Although energy-efficiency measures can reduce home energy use considerably, many consumers and businesses do not invest in them because they lack the capital or financing to do so. Consistent with President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, this program will reduce barriers to these investments by making financing more available.

Funding will be provided to rural electric cooperatives and utilities — the majority of which already have energy-efficiency programs in place — who will then re-lend the money to help homeowners or businesses make energy-efficiency improvements.

 A March 2012 Rockefeller Foundation report on financing energy-efficiency projects found that a $279 billion investment could yield more than $1 trillion in energy savings over 10 years. That is the equivalent of 30% of the annual electricity spending in the United States. Funding from the loan program will complement and strengthen other energy-efficiency activities at the USDA. Through its Rural Development mission area, the USDA also supports the research, development and use of renewable fuels.