Ann League, Tennessee campaign coordinator for Appalachian Voices, was the speaker for the afternoon.
Appalachian Voices is an organization focusing on protecting the environment in the central and southern Appalachian Mountain region.
She said the group is beginning a new initiative called “Energy Savings for Appalachia.”
“We’re working with local rural energy co-ops in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee because we see the high impact of energy costs on people in rural areas,” League said.
“We’re really hoping to promote energy efficiency programs because we see that helping the energy customers and the business community.”
She said the hope is to tap into the potential that improved energy efficiency can bring to rural areas in the form of healthier homes, lower costs and building businesses and worker development.
“Energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit,” League said. “There is no cost to produce that. You’re really saving.”
She said the potential exists to save 29 percent on electric bills with energy efficiency.
League said the ability to finance the improvements to obtain energy efficiency is a high priority of the project.
“If you have a loan that is too high with interest rates, you’re not going to be able to help the people you’re seeking to help,” she said. “There is a lot of money coming out of the federal government right now through the USDA and the Appalachian Regional Commission that is going to be available for energy efficiency loans at low or no interest.”
She said the organization is working with co-ops to develop low-interest loan programs for their customers.
League said the efficiency improvements also help businesses, especially those involved with installation.
“It will help generate jobs in the region. We really hope to help the industry grow, and we’re going to promote strong initiatives from the state, federal and local governments to help make this happen,” she said.
She said Volunteer Energy Cooperative is “really great.”
“They have some really good loan programs, but they are not as comprehensive as we would like to see,” League said.
“We’re working with a lot of co-ops and hopefully we’ll be working with Volunteer [Electric] and getting a program for very comprehensive loans.”
She said the hopes were to develop “on-bill financing.”
“People will pay their loans back on their energy bills and won’t have a separate loan payment, which makes it a lot easier,” League said.
The intent is to have the savings realized from the energy-efficiency improvements implemented through the loan to be actually more than the loan itself.
“We’re seeing in some pilot programs in North Carolina and Kentucky where they may have a loan payment of $80 a month, but they are saving $100 a month on bills,” League said. “That is a real savings of $20 a month.”
Appalachian Voices maintains a website with more information about the organization.
The Web address is appalachianvoices.org.