When leaders at Beartooth Electric Cooperative in Montana were looking to offset the costs of a project that would bring the benefits of electricity use and efficiency to an affordable housing development, they turned to an unlikely financing source.

The Beneficial Electrification League (BEL) was launched in 2018 by NRECA and the Natural Resources Defense Council to spread the word about the many advantages associated with going electric. In 2021, the group began offering grants to electric cooperatives to fund local initiatives that support its mission of promoting electricity uses that save money, protect the environment, advance grid resiliency and improve quality of life.

The grant money became available through sponsorships and philanthropic support as the BEL and NRECA built awareness during a series of state Electrify! conferences, says Keith Dennis, former NRECA vice president of consumer member engagement and now president of the Beneficial Electrification League.

“Our top priority is to be consumer facing, to continue to define beneficial electrification as serving the interests of the consumer and stakeholder,” Dennis says. “That’s what these grants are about: exploring the business model, demonstrating projects, making sure they work.”

For Red Lodge-based Beartooth EC, the grant program meant it would have to pay for about half of a $14,000 mini-split ducted heat pump unit the co-op was installing in an all-electric three-bedroom home, part of a project with Helena Habitat for Humanity and another local nonprofit. The house will showcase multiple efficient electric technologies, including heat pump water heaters, heat recovery ventilation, LED lighting and rooftop solar.

“This house will do triple duty,” says Beartooth EC General Manager Kevin Owens. “It’s all-electric, very affordable, it will contribute power from its solar array and give co-ops real-life data” on residential electrification.

The co-op plans to host events to show members this “living example” of beneficial electrification before putting the house on the market this spring.

“These projects will demonstrate how beneficial electrification can support local and national economic development and environmental goals while benefiting farmers and low-income families,” says Gary Connett, co-chair of the BEL board. “The overwhelming response to our request for proposals shows the huge appetite in America for these kinds of initiatives.”

In all, BEL awarded six grants to electric co-ops totaling more than $100,000 in 2021.

Central Electric Cooperative in South Dakota received a $12,500 grant to purchase one of the first Polaris electric utility terrain vehicles. The co-op will measure the energy consumption and capabilities of the full-size Ranger UTV and make it available to members to test-drive and to power sports technology students at the local college.

Pee Dee Electric and North Carolina's Electric Cooperatives received $25,000 to partner with a farm in Pee Dee’s territory to replace an inefficient diesel engine used to pump its livestock waste pond with a large single-phase electric motor.

Hoosier Energy used a $25,000 grant to reduce poultry barns’ reliance on propane and natural gas heaters and supplement their heating capabilities with electric systems that recover and circulate waste heat from livestock. The Bloomington, Indiana-based G&T will share the project’s data to promote broader electrification in the livestock industry.

La Plata Electric Association is using a $25,000 grant to weatherize qualifying residences in a mobile home park with the latest in electric water heating technology. The grant covers installation of an air-source heat pump water heater and other energy efficiency measures. The project will provide LPEA with data on new grid-integrated technologies while lowering energy costs for both the Colorado co-op and its members.

Winneshiek Energy District received a $11,500 grant to provide home energy audits and electrification coaching to rural families to reduce their household energy costs. The Iowa co-op expects the project to also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and system electric peak demand while improving indoor comfort and air quality.

These “boots on the ground” demonstration projects reinforce the goals of beneficial electrification by building awareness and allowing these technologies to gain wider market acceptance, Dennis says.

“As the electric power industry evolves, the league will continue its role in helping co-ops obtain the tools and resources to implement its vision.”