Born in the first half of the 20th century, rural electric cooperatives drove the monumental effort to bring electricity to remote areas of the country where investor-owned utilities could not make a profit. Owned by their members and not-for-profit organizations, rural electric cooperatives have been providing safe, reliable and affordable electric power for 75 years.
The commitment to affordable power is part of what makes co-ops different. Many co-ops are meeting that commitment by educating members about energy efficiency and providing financial tools to help members invest in energy efficiency improvements.
- 77 percent of co-ops offer free or low-cost residential energy audits
- 92 percent actively educate members on energy conservation
- 64 percent offer commercial and industrial energy audits
- 49 percent offer financial incentives for member efficiency/conservation efforts
- 41 percent offer weatherization services such as adding or replacing insulation
It’s sometimes difficult to help consumers grasp what we mean when we talk about energy efficiency. That’s why in 2009 Prairie Power Inc. (PPI)* developed two “Energy Efficiency Walls.” The co-op’s board of directors was somewhat skeptical about how much interest there really would be in this consumer education tool – leaving aside the cumbersome tasks of hauling, assembling and dismantling the 16-foot energy efficiency displays. However, they approved the idea.
Now that the Walls have “appeared” at 35 events in little more than a year with exposure to over 385,000 consumers, they continue to exceed expectations. The Walls have even had an audience of U.S. Senators and their aides in an event aimed at building support for cooperative-sponsored, low-interest loans for rural consumers’ energy efficiency improvements.
Simulating blower door tests, the pressurized Energy Efficiency Walls illustrate various opportunities for air infiltration or leakage within the common home, due to poor construction practices and materials. The displays also demonstrate the energy efficiency of different types of lighting and insulation materials, the benefits of proper caulking and other energy efficient construction practices, and the use of energy efficient products. Supplemented with Touchstone Energy “TogetherWeSave” energy efficiency brochures, videos, live internet illustrations and other materials, the Walls illustrate low-cost things cooperative members can do to reduce their energy use while improving the comfort of their homes.
In a recent meeting, Co-op President/CEO Jay Bartlett said “I completely underestimated how much interest the display would generate!” The interest shows a pent-up demand for this kind of practical, user-friendly information. It’s a little like the “Field of Dreams”: if you build it, they will come.
October has been designated national cooperative month by Secretary Tom Vilsack. To read the proclamation click here. To read a letter from President Obama about cooperative month click here. For more information about how USDA can help your cooperative achieve its goals click here.
*PPI’s electric distribution cooperatives include:
Adams Electric Cooperative
Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative
Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative
Farmers Mutual Electric Company
Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative
McDonough Power Cooperative
Menard Electric Cooperative
Shelby Electric Cooperative
Spoon River Electric Cooperative
Western Illinois Electrical Coop