There are many sources of capital for electric cooperatives to create energy efficiency and renewable energy programs including the USDA and cooperative lenders like Co-Bank and CFC, who many co-ops are already banking with.
Here's more about three specific USDA programs:
- USDA’s EECLP program: Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program
Began in February 2014, available for all RUS borrowers to invest in energy efficiency improvements for entire system (including members’ homes), distributed generation, and demand side management. Interest rate is Treasury rate plus 1/8. More from USDA on the program and from EESI.
- USDA REDLG: Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program
Provides a 0% interest loan or a grant for energy efficiency and a range of other eligible activities, but requires a 20% in-kind match. There is a limited amount of funding available annually with a maximum loan amount of $1 million.
- USDA RESP: Rural Energy Savings Program:
Set up to provide 0% interest loans to rural electric co-ops to start or expand on-bill financing (the program buys the interest down to 0%). The program is currently accepting applications with a deadline of September 30, 2019, although they could run out of funds earlier.
- Comparison of these 3 programs:
There's a great handout from Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Clean Energy Works & Appalachian Voices that compares RESP, EECLP & REDLG as federal financing sources for on-bill financing for energy efficiency. See download link in the left sidebar.
USDA also has a Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), but only agricultural producers with at least 50% of gross income coming from agricultural operations and small businesses in rural areas are eligible to apply.