Clyburn backs energy loan plan


COLUMBIA -- U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said Thursday he will try to sell an idea to Congress to allow South Carolina residents to take out loans to make their homes energy efficient and pay on the balance each month through their electric bills.

Clyburn said the proposal by the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina is "revolutionary" and can be duplicated nationwide after it gets a test run in the state.

"Everyone we talk to about this thinks it's a very good idea," Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said.

Clyburn said he is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify capital for the low-interest loans, which will average about $5,000. He plans to push for the plan to be included as part of forthcoming multibillion-dollar legislation to create jobs.

"It's a win-win-win," Clyburn said.

Homeowners and renters could borrow to buy new heating and air units or insulation and automatically pay back the money on their monthly bills. The money to do so would come from the energy savings they see as a result of the improvements.

Electric companies would benefit because the demand to produce more energy would go down. It would put people in jobs that specialize in energy efficiency, carpentry and other professions that help make homes better able to withstand the elements, Clyburn said.

Michael Couick, CEO for cooperatives, said Clyburn understands the challenges many rural South Carolinians face with paying their bills and living in homes that aren't energy efficient. The cooperatives provide power to more than 70 percent of the state geographically and serve 1.5 million customers.

The risk involved with making the loans is low, Couick said. He said that the default on electric bills in South Carolina is less than 1 percent.

Couick also needs the state Legislature to support the plan for it to become a reality. Versions of the same bill to allow the electric cooperatives to offer the loans are awaiting a vote on the House and Senate floors. The House could take it up as early as Tuesday.

The bills in the Statehouse also would allow other South Carolina electric providers to offer the loans.

Clyburn said he is confident he can sell the plan to the U.S. House. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also is interested in the proposal, according to Graham's office.

The environmental community is behind the idea as well.

Hamilton Davis, energy and climate director for the Charleston-based Coastal Conservation League, said the organization has been working with cooperatives to gain legislative support.

"It is a game-changer for efficiency in South Carolina because of the volume of customers" who receive energy from the cooperatives, Davis said. "For them to take a leadership role on something like this will help mitigate our rising electricity bills for future generations."