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Appalachian Voices To Host Press Conference Regarding On-Bill Financing on July 29

By Jesse Wood

Appalachian Voices is hosting a press conference on Wednesday, July 29, to thank the nearly 1,000 residents and 20 businesses and service agencies that have signed on to support an energy efficiency program for the High Country.

The nonprofit will also take the time to thank Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation for taking the necessary steps to offer on-bill financing to its members.

On-bill financing is a low-interest loan program that numerous electric utilities in North Carolina provide to customers that don’t have the means to pay out-of-pocket the full costs of comprehensive energy efficiency improvements and appliance upgrades in their homes.

After receiving a loan from the electric provider and funding the improvements, customers would then pay back the loan with money saved from the energy savings each month.

“Such “on-bill financing” programs have been extremely successful in other places, including in areas of North Carolina served by rural electric cooperatives, according to Appalachian Voices, which has been in talks with BREMCO about offering this service in the High Country.

Previously, BREMCO spokesperson Renee Whitener said that this program didn’t have much support from its members in the past. Whitener offered this comment whenever Appalachian Voices launched a “High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest” in October and coincided the contest with a campaign for a local on-bill finance program.

Recently, though, Whitener said that the electric company hopes to have on-bill financing available next year.

In a statement to HCPress.com, Whitener recently wrote:

“As part of Blue Ridge Electric’s strategic planning process, we are carefully studying and evaluating options for an on-bill energy efficiency loan financing program for members who would like to use this method to borrow money to make energy efficiency upgrades to their home. We must be able to ensure a way to loan members these funds while protecting other members from anyone who might default–or not be able to pay back these loans. We hope to be able to offer this option in 2016 after a thorough study is completed this year.”

When Appalachian Voices started this campaign in October, it sought at least 7,500 signatures on a petition encouraging BREMCO to offer on-bill financing. This number was required to hold a special meeting with the electric utility.

The nonprofit didn’t reach that goal, which ended up not being necessary, but Appalachian Voices did bring a small contingent to BREMCO’s annual meeting in June to speak during public comment.

Rory McIlmoil, Energy Policy Director at Appalachian Voices, said that they received a “great response” form BREMCO CEO Doug Johnson and the board of directors. See a recap of this meeting here.

McIlmoil said that Southern Environmental Law Center is working with Appalachian Voices to help BREMCO overcome potential legal and statutory hurdles regarding the on-bill financing program.

McIlmoil also noted that Roanake Electric Cooperative, which launched its Upgrade to $ave on-bill financing program earlier this year, is also helping out.

“We hope to see BREMCO be able to address their concerns over the next six weeks, and they have stated to us that, assuming they feel confident moving forward after resolving those issues, they hope to have a small-scale program in place by early 2016,” McIlmoil said two weeks ago. “They have not ‘committed’ to offering a program, but they do sincerely seem dedicated to achieving that.”

The press conference will take place at the Jones House, located on King Street, on Wednesday, July 29. The event starts at 5:30 p.m., and hors d’oeuvres will be served. RSVP is requested by July 24.

“The evening will begin with networking over refreshments,” an email invitation reads. “Appalachian Voices will then address the real need for energy efficiency programs that will allow High Country residents of any income to invest in weatherization upgrades for their home, followed by community members sharing how home energy upgrades have changed their quality of life by reducing their electric bills and improving the comfort of their homes.”

For more information on this program, click to Appalachian Voice’s website here.