A Vital Tool for Supporting Our Communities - Carolina Country

A Vital Tool for Supporting Our Communities

by Steve Hamlin

Steve Hamlin

For nearly 80 years, electric cooperatives have been key economic drivers throughout North Carolina and the nation. Our mission of strengthening our communities by providing affordable, reliable electricity is as strong today as it was when we were founded in the 1930s and 40s.

Piedmont Electric, my cooperative, as well as most of the other electric cooperatives in North Carolina, partner with the United States Department of Agriculture by utilizing the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program (REDLG). In fact, through the efforts of our state’s electric co-ops, over the past five years more REDLG grants have been issued for North Carolina projects than any other state in the country.

This partnership supports and strengthens our rural communities by providing financial resources at zero-interest as grants and loans to electric cooperatives for rural projects and improvements. The cooperatives, in turn, loan the money out to the eligible local organizations who support our local economies, improve infrastructure, provide jobs and generally improve our communities.

At Piedmont Electric, we have invested in more than 20 different projects through the REDLG program totaling more than $9.6 million. Since 2013, we have supported REDLG projects for two schools, a public library, 14 fire trucks, two ambulances and three fire stations. These projects have focused on improving education and emergency preparedness in the counties we serve. We believe that investment in these areas will have a long-lasting and far-reaching beneficial impact on our region.

For example, we used these federal REDLG funds to help the North Eastern Alamance Volunteer Fire Department build a new fire station. The new station helps the fire department provide better service to its district, but also helps lower homeowners’ insurance bills in our area.

The North Carolina Department of Insurance provides an ISO rating that determines how much people pay for homeowners’ insurance. The new fire station will improve emergency response and therefore lower the ISO rating, which should save homeowners in the area an estimated combined total of $100,000 each year.

Additionally, these local organizations avoid having to pay interest on borrowing money as these loans are at zero-interest. Since we loan to emergency services and schools, we estimate that we have saved local tax payers about $2 million so far in interest payments.

As these loans are paid back to the local cooperative, the grant portion of the funds remain at the cooperative in a revolving loan fund that will be loaned again for future projects to further help the community.

We believe that the REDLG program is an excellent example of a successful partnership and a real “win-win” between the federal government and electric cooperatives. The REDLG program definitely supports our mission of helping our communities be exceptional places to live, work and raise a family.

About the Author

Steve Hamlin is president and CEO at Piedmont Electric in Hillsborough.

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