Merkley Proposal Leads to New Energy Loan Program for Rural Communities

Washington — Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the creation of a new $250 million loan fund based on the Rural Energy Savings Program proposed by Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley. The new program will allow rural electric co-ops to offer their customers low-interest loans from USDA to provide affordable financing for energy efficiency improvements. The customers then pay back the loans through the savings on their electric bills.  

The program passed the Senate twice in the farm bill, but the U.S. House of Representatives has failed to pass a comprehensive farm bill for the past two years. 

“Our number one goal should be creating good, middle class jobs,” said Merkley. “Investing in energy efficiency renovations, which create good jobs in construction and American manufacturing, is one of the best ways we can do that. Additionally, homeowners and businesses will be able to cut down on wasted energy and save money on their bills. The people and communities who can benefit from this program shouldn’t have to wait any longer for Congress to get their act together. I applaud the USDA for moving forward to put this idea into action.” 

Senator Merkley first put forward the idea in 2010 in a bipartisan partnership with Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN). Under the new USDA program, low-cost loans from the USDA’s rural development program will be provided to rural electric cooperatives and utilities, who will then re-lend the money to help homeowners or businesses make energy efficiency improvements. The loans may be used for upgrades to heating, lighting, other appliances, and insulation, and conversions to more efficient or renewable energy sources. 

Oregon has 18 electric co-ops serving communities across the state.