The high cost of energy is one of the most important topics of concern for farmers, ranchers and most rural residents.
If we talk about electricity specifically, a new fact sheet released by the Center for Rural Affairs, based in Lyons, Neb., states that energy costs — based on 2020 statistics — are cheaper in Nebraska than the U.S. household average over that same time period.
However, rural households in general tend to have a higher energy-cost burden. Rural residents spend 40% more than their metropolitan counterparts on their energy bills relative to their income, according to CFRA. And rural elderly residents typically spend 44% more than the non-elderly.
While access to energy of all kinds is essential for homes and businesses across the U.S., the cost of service can pose a burden to customers depending on income level. “Low-income households spend three times more of their income on energy costs compared to the median spending of non-low-income households,” says Lindsay Mouw, policy associate for CFRA.
Lowdown on energy
Why is this so? “Energy is affected by a variety of factors, including income level, a home’s age and condition, and a household’s ability to invest in home energy-efficiency upgrades,” Mouw says. “However, rural residents usually have a greater energy burden because incomes are lower in rural communities than in urban areas, so rural residents end up paying a larger percentage of their income toward energy bills.”
Understanding the benefits of efficiency upgrades doesn’t help to pay for them. So Mouw suggests starting by contacting the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy to learn more about the programs that might help.
“A second place to look for resources is the public power districts in which residents live and operate,” Mouw explains. “Nebraska Public Power District [NPPD], Omaha Public Power District and Lincoln Electric System all offer energy-efficiency programs in the form of loans and rebates to qualifying customer-owners.”
Weatherization can be a big part of improving efficiency in rural homes. “NDEE offers a Weatherization Assistance Program that will replace windows, and the Dollar and Energy Savings Loan program allows residents to finance door and window upgrades,” Mouw said. “Smart thermostats have the ability to save households money through more precise heating and cooling settings. They can be controlled through an app and adjusted when not at home, and they learn when a home is occupied, adjusting heating and cooling settings.”
There is also the Nebraska Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that offers financial assistance to offset the costs of home heating and cooling, including propane use. This is available to qualifying low-income households.
In 2015, according to the fact sheet, Nebraska passed legislation enabling Property Assessed Clean Energy financing in the state, allowing property owners to finance energy-efficient and clean-energy projects through an assessment on their property taxes. This allows owners to pay back the expenses from the projects over time, limiting the upfront costs and simultaneously reducing energy costs for the property owner.
While the farm home may be of particular concern, the Nebraska Dollar and Energy Savings Loan program is available to help improve efficiency in agricultural buildings around the operation for up to $500,000. NPPD’s EnergyWise program also offers incentives to farmers and ranchers, Mouw says.
In Nebraska, energy efficiency is the second-largest energy sector, employing 12,432 people in 98% of the state’s counties, including 5,310 jobs in rural counties. So, the idea of improving energy efficiency on the farm is not only important to the pocketbook of the operator, but also helps to boost economic development in rural areas.
Get all the details on improving energy efficiency on your farm or ranch by downloading the CFRA fact sheet, “Energy Efficiency Offers Savings for Nebraskans,” at cfra.org/publications. This resource is available in English and Spanish. You can also visit deq.state.ne.us.
A Center for Rural Affairs news release contributed to this article.