When it comes to the adoption of energy efficiency and renewable power, financing is always a challenge, especially in rural areas.

A new partnership between a business group and an environmental advocacy organization takes aim at that challenge.

This month, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA) announced their new "Partnership for Advancing an Inclusive Rural Energy Economy."

The partnership is intended to help rural electric cooperatives (co-ops) develop on-bill financing programs to pay for the installation of sustainable energy technology, including energy efficiency upgrades, community projects in solar, and clean energy storage.

The program was made possible through a one-year, $150,000 grant from the New York Community Trust (NYCT).

The partnership was designed to make efficiency upgrades and renewable power more accessible to rural customers by providing them with a financing tool that requires no upfront costs. On-bill financing allows customers to acquire energy improvements from their local utility by paying for the improvements through their monthly bill. Also, on-bill financing does not rely on typical loan underwriting. It uses bill payment history, as opposed to credit scores, to determine eligibility, which expands the pool of eligible customers.

Rural customers are often at a disadvantage in the movement to adopt renewable and energy efficient technology because of low incomes and lack of access to other financing options. Electric co-ops are a major provider to customers in rural areas. Their member-owned business model uniquely positions them to offer on-bill financing programs to their customers.

The EESI is an independent, non-profit organization that educates policy-makers and supports programs that advance clean energy. NCBA CLUSA is an advocacy group for electric cooperatives. The EESI has been actively supporting on-bill financing for many years. The model it uses is based on the organization's “Help My House” pilot project, which started with co-ops in South Carolina. The EESI has recently expanded the initiative into a national effort.