$250M Slated for Energy Efficiency Projects

      WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has earmarked $250 million in loans for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems in rural areas, the agency announced.
     The regulation, issued by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), amends the Rural Electrification Act by adding the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program.
     Under the new loan program, businesses and residents in rural communities can apply for loans that further the goal of decreasing energy consumption by improving generation, transmission and distribution of electricity, and by decreasing residential demand.
     Though not a stated goal, the program supports President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which aims to decrease power plant emissions, the nation's largest source of greenhouse emissions, the action states.
     "RUS recognizes that there will be a reduction of green house gases with energy efficiency improvements," the agency said in its action.
     According to the USDA, utilities receiving loans under the new program can relend those funds to consumers for energy efficiency improvements in industrial, commercial or residential applications. They can also use funds to complete energy efficiency activities on their own property.
     "Energy efficiency retrofitting can shrink home energy use by 40 percent, saving money for consumers and helping rural utilities manage their electric load more efficiently. 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," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.
     Acceptable goals for use of funds include projects that increase energy efficiency at the end-user level, decrease overall electric load demand, result in more efficient use of existing facilities, attract new business and create new jobs, and encourage the use of renewable energy fuels for either demand-side management or reduce conventional fossil fuel use.
     Demand side management refers to efforts to influence consumer use of electricity, according to the action.
     The regulation is effective Feb. 3, 2014.