Benham Power Board launches innovative residential energy efficiency program

Residents of the town of Benham in Harlan County, Kentucky will soon benefit from an innovative energy efficiency program, called Benham$aves, which was established today in a special called meeting held by the town’s municipally owned utility, the Benham Power Board. To celebrate the decision, all Benham residents are invited to a Community Pig Roast this evening at the Betty Howard Coal Miner’s Memorial Theater.

“This is something we’ve been working towards for a long time. It is exciting to see it come together,” said Danny Quillen, chair of the Benham Power Board. “This program can help individuals save money on their bills and help the whole community by lowering what the Benham Power Board pays to a wholesale energy provider for peak demand.”

The Benham$aves program will pay the upfront costs of insulation, upgrades to heating and air conditioning units, and other energy efficiency measures for qualifying customers who choose to participate. Residents will repay the investment over a 15-year period, using a portion of the energy savings. The program is designed to ensure that the monthly repayment is no more than 85% of the projected monthly savings, meaning that the retrofits pay for themselves over time and customers start saving money immediately, compared to their previous energy bills.

“We are glad to be able to help the people of Benham save money through energy efficiency,” stated Blake Enlow, the Executive Director of COAP, a local nonprofit organization that provides affordable housing in Harlan, Bell and Leslie counties. As part of the Benham$aves program, COAP will do home energy assessments and make recommended energy improvements in participating homes. “Most of the houses we’ve looked at in Benham have minimal insulation. If we can take care of that and do some air sealing at the same time, people will instantly feel the difference. Their homes will have less warm air going out the roof and won’t suck so much cold air in through the floors.”

“I didn’t even sleep last night I was so excited,” said Harlan County retired coal miner, Carl Shoupe. Shoupe serves as Vice Chair of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and is a member of the Benham Power Board. "We started working on this project sometime back in 2009 or so, when it was just a dream. It’s finally coming to fruition.”

The resolution passed today by the Power Board states in part:

“WHEREAS, the Benham$aves Program’s purpose is to build a strong and resilient community in Benham through a community-wide energy efficiency program that saves money for residents and the Power Board, create wealth, income and job opportunities for local workers, improve the value of local homes, build local knowledge and relationships and create a hopeful story about what can be accomplished when people pull together; and

WHEREAS, the Benham$aves Program is being designed and implemented as an on-bill financing program that allows residents in the City of Benham to weatherize homes for no money down and pay back the investment on their utility bills, using a portion of the energy savings, and to raise funds for a revolving community investment fund that can, over 15 years, pay the upfront costs for making homes in Benham energy efficient, and can, in later years, be invested in other energy efficiency, renewable energy or sustainable energy infrastructure projects that benefit the community; and

WHEREAS, the Benham$aves Program has been developed with the help and collaboration from many community partners, including COAP, Inc., Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Inc., Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, Inc., Appalshop Inc., and Harlan County Community Foundation, Inc.; and

WHEREAS, the capital for this program, along with some initial administrative costs, will be raised from donations and investments from private foundations, individuals or state and federal grant programs; and,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Directors of Benham Power Board herewith approves the establishment and implementation of the Benham$aves Program....”

After the vote, Power Board chairman Danny Quillen reflected, “The way our Power Board has come together around this project really shows we are looking towards the future instead of just sitting and living in today. We are appreciative of the founders of this Power Board and all the members who have served in the past who have given us this opportunity to keep power in our community and make important and innovative decisions like this. I’m proud that our Power Board can sit and discuss and decide and come to agreement without splitting everybody. That’s part of looking toward the future.”

The Benham$aves program was inspired by an on-bill financing program pioneered by several of Kentucky’s rural electric co-ops and MACED. In December 2013, MACED also provided funds to do one energy assessment and retrofit in Benham as a demonstration project. In the first month after completion of that job, average energy use in the town as a whole increased by 42% over the year before, due to cold weather. However, energy use in the newly insulated home decreased by 56% in that same month!

Initial funding for the Benham$aves project was provided by the Blue Moon Fund. A campaign to raise the capital for Benham$aves energy retrofits will get underway soon. For now, contributions to this project may be made to the Kentucky Coalition, PO Box 1450, London, KY 40743 with “Benham” in the memo line.

As Carl Shoupe explained, the Benham$aves program is part of a larger story of efforts to shape a just economic transition in eastern Kentucky. “This is one way we can improve our economy here in the mountains. When we invest in energy efficiency, right away people feel better in their homes and have more money in their pockets, money that can circulate in our community. This program can also generate new jobs and income for local businesses and workers. And the whole thing has come about because people are working together.”