Electricity Cooperatives Pave the Way for a Renewable Future

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20 June 2017 | Kevin Stark | Shareable

Curtis Wynn had a problem. Since 1997, Wynn has led the Roanoke Electric Cooperative in North Carolina. For a good chunk of that time, he’d been pushing for the cooperative’s members to adopt clean technology.

The problem? His members thought their bills were too high — some were paying more than $200 a month. A third of the co-op’s members live in mobile homes and about a half live in single family homes — almost none live in apartments. Many of these buildings were badly in need of efficiency upgrades.

Wynn’s team tried educating members (didn’t solve it) and weatherizing grants and rebates for water heaters (not enough). They offered loans, but people didn’t want them. So in 2015 the co-op tried a new idea.

Roanoke began paying its members to make efficiency upgrade to their homes through a tariff on-bill financing program. It’s a model that electricity cooperatives are using across the country to modernize the oldest infrastructure in the most rural places in the country — often in places where access to the clean energy economy is restricted by persistent poverty.

How does the initiative work? It’s pretty simple. The cooperative hires local contractors to make the efficiency upgrades — caulking windows, installing insulation, and replacing heat pumps or other appliances. After the work is completed, members pay the co-op back by way of a fee on their electric bill, usually over a 10-year period.

It’s different from the typical on-bill financing model provided by many investor-owned utilities. With the tariff initiative, customers don’t have to take out a line of credit or take any new debt.

Typically, the co-op will do an energy audit of the home to ensure that monthly savings are enough to reduce the bill while still covering the monthly tariff fee. Energy bills are less expensive even as people are paying for the upgrades and living more comfortably.

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