Rural homeowners could get loans of about $3,000 to $7,500 to make their homes more energy-efficient under legislation the House passed Thursday.
Democrats, who pushed through the bill on a mainly partyline vote, said the loan program would promote construction jobs, boost American manufacturers, and help bring down rural energy costs. It passed 240-172 and now must be considered by the Senate.
The bill authorizes the spending of $993 million over five years to cover the cost of the program, although supporters said it would be paid for through repayment of the loans.
Under the legislation, the Agriculture Department would make zero-interest loans to rural electric co-ops, which in turn would make loans to qualified consumers at interest rates not to exceed 3 percent. The loans would be repaid over 10 years on the consumers' utility bills, with savings from the energy upgrades covering much of the cost.
The chief sponsors of the bill, House Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina and Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va., said more than 90 percent of the materials used in the program — caulking, hot water heaters, sealants, windows and doors — are made in America.
The program, dubbed Rural Star, is part of a series of bills that House Democrats are promoting to promote manufacturing and keep jobs in America. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the initiative would create as many as 40,000 jobs a year in the construction industry.
The measure also includes a loan program that Republicans succeeded in stripping out when the House passed the Home Star energy efficiency program last May. Home Star, also known as Cash for Caulkers, would make many homeowners eligible for thousands and dollars in rebates for carrying out energy-efficient renovations to their homes. The Home Star bill has yet to be considered by the Senate.
Republicans contended that the Rural Star duplicated an existing Department of Energy program to help families weatherize their homes. "I don't see the need for another program," said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
The bill is H.R. 4785.