Pioneer customers to benefit from USDA grant

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 2, 2006

Pioneer Electric members will benefit from the recent awarding of an $885,760 grant to help reduce energy costs for low-income families living in rural areas, according to co-op General Manager Steve Harmon.

&#8220We are overjoyed at the news,” said Harmon, named GM of the multi-county co-op in January. &#8220Pioneer Electric members are most deserving of this help and we're excited to have found these dollars and to be the one chosen to help our members in such a big way. It's quite an honor to be chosen and nobody deserves this more than Pioneer Electric members.”

The grant, part of the High Energy Cost program conducted by the USDA, allows qualified applicants to install energy efficient heating systems and appliances, while also weatherizing their homes for those winter cold snaps that can send energy bills skyrocketing.

According to the USDA, consumers can cut energy costs by as much as 40 percent through this grant.

&#8220Increasing domestic energy production, including the development of farm-based energy sources, helps to strengthen the economy of rural American and reduces our dependence on imported oil,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. &#8220These funds will also help to promote energy efficiency by improving our existing electrical infrastructure.”

Harmon agreed.

&#8220Living conditions, more than any other single factor, influence what an electric bill is going to be,” he said. &#8220What this grant does is help qualified low income members replace inefficient heating equipment to lower household energy use. While the electric costs per kilowatt-hour in the areas this grant targets are actually below the national average, the reason it was awarded is because of housing in disrepair and homes heated and cooled with energy-guzzling central systems.”

Harmon said the &#8220missing link” for helping Pioneer customers slash their energy prices has always been money. According to Pioneer officials, a study conducted three years ago by the co-op and National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise proved members could lower electricity costs between 30 and 40 percent with proper energy-saving measures.

&#8220Most of these members can't qualify for loans,” said Harmon. &#8220 Furthermore, assistance programs, such as ProjectShare and OCAP, can only pay a bill or two. The grant that we've been awarded offers a cure - a long term solution that empowers these members to have their homes fixed so they can manage their energy consumption and lower their electric bills.”

Linda Horn, Pioneer's Energy Specialist, said details about the distribution of funds would be forthcoming. Horn helped write the grant application and she said the co-op is waiting to receive the federal government's terms and conditions for administrating the loan.

&#8220OCAP (Organized Community Action Program) will screen applicants to determine which high energy use households will receive grant assistance,” she said. &#8220As you might imagine, the federal program's guidelines are strict, but the two main criteria are median household income and annual energy expenses.”

Horn said she anticipates the program to be underway by this summer.