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Tom Perriello: A sense of economic urgency

Column by Tom Perriello

For 18 months, I have been fighting for Congress to pass simple legislation to support American manufacturing and construction. Washington seems to lack the urgency that I sense back home on Main Street.

One of the common-sense solutions I have pushed for is the Rural Energy Savings Program Act, a bill that we call “Rural Star,” which can put construction crews back to work tomorrow renovating buildings with American-made insulation and super-efficient windows. It is estimated to create 20,000 to 40,000 jobs a year while saving Virginia families and businesses money on their electric bills. I was an original cosponsor of this important bipartisan legislation, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and last week the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture finally passed it on a simple voice vote. This means it is heading to the floor for a vote by the full House of Representatives.

Rural Star is a simple but powerful way to put people back to work in the hard-hit construction sector while also saving families money on electric bills amidst a brutal summer. The bill creates a loan fund through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) so local electric cooperatives can offer small, low-interest loans to customers for energy-saving renovations and structural improvements.

These renovations can produce major savings for Virginia families, but sometimes the upfront investment costs too much for some to afford. In this economy, many folks don’t have $7,000 to spend on a new roof, or heating and cooling system, for example. This program allows them to receive a small loan from their electric cooperative, ranging from $1,500 to $7,000, to purchase sealing, insulation, heat pumps, HVAC systems, boilers, roofs and make other improvements that produce significant savings. Consumers then repay the loan with a small fee built into their utility bill, but the genius of this plan is that this would be offset by lower consumption. Consumers are then left with lower electric builds and a high resale value for their homes. Every single dollar loaned out under the program will be repaid within ten years. The program builds on the existing electric co-op infrastructure that has strong community ties and a 75-year history of financing for consumer loans.

In addition to the savings for consumers, the program will also be a boon for the domestic manufacturing and construction industries. Energy-efficiency products are almost exclusively manufactured in the United States—including window films manufactured in Martinsville—and installation jobs cannot be exported. We cannot let this year’s building season pass without putting our crews back to work, and every day we delay just means more money flowing out of our communities.

Common-sense solutions can help turn our job crisis around, but Washington must act before this construction season ends. Rural Star, and the related Home Star proposals boost construction, manufacturing, home values, and family budgets. As far as I’m concerned, this one is a no-brainer. I’m thrilled to see Rural Star moving forward and I am urging my colleagues to pass this much-needed job-creating measure before Congress leaves on August recess.

Rural Star is exactly the kind of common-sense legislation that I have been calling for as part of my “New Energy” Blueprint. This detailed, forward-looking plan has guided my efforts to put Central and Southern at the forefront of the burgeoning clean and alternative energy industry. In the past year, we’ve made significant progress in every of the plan, including energy efficiency, with federal funding from the Recovery Act supporting weatherization of 824 homes in the Fifth District, a 70 percent increase from previous years.