In 1999, members from my congregation and the greater community gathered to discuss the overwhelming need for safe and energy-efficient houses in Marion County, SC. We developed the Eastern Carolina Community Development Corporation, now the New Alpha Community Development Corporation, and with support from the South Carolina Housing Trust Fund, we were able to improve 84 homes for low-income and fixed-income families. Funding, however, was a constant challenge. After repairing roofs, replacing plumbing and floors, there was never enough money to put in new water heaters or other energy-efficient systems.
When the 2008 recession hit, our resources — and our impact — were further reduced.
With the EPA’s newly proposed Clean Power Plan, however, this could dramatically change. Each state is required to submit an energy proposal, explaining how it will cut carbon to meet national standards. As South Carolina develops its own 2030 energy plan, it is imperative that it includes energy-efficiency programs to support just and equitable access to safe, comfortable living conditions. The South Carolina Energy Stakeholders Group is a coalition of utilities, conservation groups and government agencies. As a member, I can say that one of our primary goals is to make sure communities, especially low-income communities, are involved in the development of South Carolina’s energy plan. The effects of climate change often hit people of color and low-income communities hardest, and this is an opportunity for these communities to engage in and benefit from climate action. To ensure a clean energy future, all stakeholders need to be part of and benefit from the process.
The New Alpha Community Development Corporation has recently developed new partnerships with Duke Electric Cooperative and the American Council on Energy Efficiency Economies (ACEEE). With more funding and partnerships, we can expand our outreach to repair more homes, improve their energy efficiency, and explore opportunities with solar power generation.
One of these programs is Help My House, an on-bill financing program designed to improve members’ comfort and efficiency in their homes. Paying for the upfront costs of home repair and energy-efficiency retrofits can be challenging. With on-bill financing, however, a utility covers these initial costs, and the homeowner pays back a low-interest loan that’s added to their monthly energy bills. The goal is net neutrality, meaning that the energy saved from the efficiency improvements would cover the monthly loan payment.
This type of program results in lower energy bills, a more comfortable home environment, and a decrease in the amount of energy generated to meet regional demand. Another benefit is that the loan stays with the house instead of the homeowner. A lot of the people who would benefit the most from this type of program are paying the highest electric bills, sometimes as much as $2000.
Participating in Help My House or one like it means that people don’t have to decide between buying medicine and paying bills.
I have seen South Carolina undergo great changes in my lifetime, and as I look to the future, I envision vibrant communities, boosted by job opportunities in wind, solar and geothermal. I envision healthy communities, free from pollution caused by the fossil fuel industries. But most importantly, I envision equitable communities.
To learn more about on-bill financing programs, visit:
For examples of on-bill financing programs in other states, visit: