Bennet Uses First Hearing as Chairman to Push Bipartisan Bill to Promote Energy Efficiency, Create Jobs in Colorado's Rural Communities

Colorado Rural Electric Association Executive Director Testifies in Favor of the Rural Energy Savings Program Act

Washington, DC – Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado, today used his first hearing as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy, Science and Technology to highlight a bipartisan bill that promotes energy efficiency and creates jobs in rural communities. 

The Rural Energy Savings Program Act (RESPA), of which Bennet is an original cosponsor, will spur new investments in energy efficiency by providing rural electric cooperative customers access to low-interest loans through the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service. 

“For my first hearing, I wanted to highlight this important bill. This legislation would benefit rural Colorado by lowering electric costs for families and small businesses, create jobs here at home and help the environment,” Bennet said.  “Upfront costs of energy efficiency improvements are often prohibitively expensive for many families, and this bill provides a commonsense solution so that rural Americans can benefit from reduced energy bills and enjoy the savings in their family budgets during these tough economic times.”

The program will help create jobs in the domestic manufacturing and construction industries, as energy-efficiency products are almost exclusively manufactured in the United States and installation jobs cannot be exported. The program builds on the existing co-op infrastructure that has strong community ties and a demonstrated 75-year history of on-bill financing for consumer loans.

The energy savings from the upgrade will cover most of the cost of the loan. Consumers will save more on their energy bills after the loan is repaid, saving most families hundreds of dollars annually.

Kent Singer, executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association (CREA), testified in support of the bill that will save money for Colorado’s rural cooperative customers.

“CREA supports the RESPA bill because we believe there are co-op members in Colorado that would benefit from energy efficiency improvements on their homes and who cannot afford to make the upfront investment in those improvements,” Singer said.  “By providing low-interest loan funds, the RESPA would benefit rural Colorado by making homes and businesses more comfortable and energy efficient, and it would also create much-needed jobs in rural communities.”

The hearing also featured testimony from U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon; Nivin Elgohary, Acting Assistant Administrator, Rural Development’s Electric Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture; William Hanesworth, Vice President, General Manager, Rheem Air Conditioning Division, Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The full text of Bennet’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is included below:

In my home state of Colorado, there is tremendous enthusiasm surrounding the push towards what we call the new, clean energy economy. 

We’ve seen the clean energy economy take root in areas all across our state, in rural and urban communities alike.  But with clean-energy projects cropping up all across the state, people in rural Colorado are wondering what they can do to bring the clean energy economy a little closer to home.

They’re wondering what role small towns can play in making energy more affordable to help usher in an energy-independent future.  It’s my view that the right way to transform our energy economy will is one in which we all share in the economic benefits.

One way we can help rural America harness these economic benefits is to rethink not only how we produce our energy, but how we can make better, more efficient use of that energy in our rural communities. 

Energy efficiency is the “low hanging fruit” in the drive to reduce our overall energy consumption and diversify the kinds of energy sources we use.

As we’re likely to hear today, homes in rural areas tend to be older and less energy efficient.  As a result, working families in rural America tend to spend a larger proportion of their incomes on energy and utility costs than families in urban areas. 

So simple efficiency upgrades can help lower energy costs and help ease the burden on already tight family budgets.  Yet upfront costs oftentimes put these improvements out of reach for families struggling to make ends meet.

The bipartisan bill before us this morning provides a common-sense solution to this very pervasive problem in rural America.  Our purpose is to create new jobs for rural Americans, save families money and help the environment – a win, win, win.

By overcoming the high upfront costs of energy efficiency improvements, this bill puts simple energy efficiency improvements within reach for families all across rural America.

That’s something we can all get behind – as Republicans and Democrats.  In a time when partisan gridlock prevents anything from getting done, this bill offers an opportunity for both parties to work together to get the job done for the American people.

The Rural Energy Savings Program Act authorizes $4.9 billion dollars in lending authority through USDA’s Rural Utilities Service.  I want to emphasize here that this is a fiscally responsible way to solve a very real problem for families in rural America, because the resources are distributed through loans, not grants. 

So the American taxpayer will be paid back for every dime put into these innovative energy efficiency loans.

Once the bill is passed into law, and I hope today’s hearing marks another step forward in that process, a rural cooperative would apply to RUS to borrow money to fund these local energy efficiency programs.

A no interest loan is then given to the cooperative which they, in turn, lend to rural homeowners and small businesses.

The homeowners and small businesses use the money to help cover the upfront costs of energy efficiency improvements.

These costs are paid back to the coop over a 10 year time period as an addition onto that homeowners’ or small business’ monthly electric utility bill.

Those additional costs to the homeowners and small businesses will be substantially offset by the cost savings stemming from the installed energy efficiency improvements.

This bill will help rural economies recover by creating thousands of good-paying jobs in my home state of Colorado, and across the country. 

These jobs serve several important public purposes.  They save families money.  And they make us more secure by supporting our energy independence and reducing harmful pollution. 

These are jobs that will be created right here in America and that can’t be shipped overseas.  The Rural Energy Savings Program is commonsense, bipartisan bill supported by a broad coalition of partners, and I look forward to having today’s hearing and subsequently getting it passed into law.

In my home state, this bill has the support of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and Environment Colorado – a diverse coalition that’s working towards a new approach to an old problem.

I thank them for their support and my colleagues for their leadership.  Working together, I’m confident we can help pass this bill into law and, in doing so, help ensure that as we move forward into the new energy economy, rural America is not left behind.