Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new program that will help rural residents conserve energy and save money on their utility bills. The new Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP) will make $52 million in loans available to energy providers to help rural families and small businesses reduce their energy use.

RESP will provide loans to rural energy providers who in turn fund projects for consumers to make energy efficiency improvements in their homes or businesses that will lower their energy use. Eligible applicants include current and former Rural Utilities Service (RUS) borrowers, subsidiaries of current or former RUS borrowers, and entities that provide retail electric service in rural areas.

RESP borrowers finance loans at zero percent interest for up to 20 years, making the program an attractive and affordable option to finance energy-saving measures. Energy customers participating in programs financed through RESP then repay the loans at an interest rate of up to 3 percent for up to 10 years through their electric bills.

RESP builds upon the work that USDA Rural Development has done to help improve the energy efficiency of single- and multi-family housing, businesses, farms and utilities. It aligns with the Obama Administration's StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity and Promise Zone initiatives to help revitalize communities and expand economic opportunity through targeted funding, technical assistance and partnerships. RESP will be used to focus on low-income, high-energy-cost communities.

Congress authorized the program in the 2014 Farm Bill. RUS administers RESP as well as the similar Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program (EECLP). RESP is open to a broader pool of eligible borrowers, has a zero percent interest rate, and has a longer loan term than EECLP. To be considered for RESP funding, applicants should submit a letter of intent by Aug. 5, 2016. E-mail the letter of intent to Applications will be processed on a first-come/first-served basis until funds are expended. For additional information, see page 40262 of the June 21 Federal Register.