FHA DOES IT. VA does it. Why won't FmHa do it? Why won't the Farmers Home Administration finance solar energy systems for rural housing, nursing homes and the like? The Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration, which are seldom regarded as daring, have begun making loans for housing with solar hotwater or heating systems. But the folks at FmHa still consider the technology too innovative and economically unproven.
One institution hurt by FmHa's timidity is Friends House, a Quakerrun nursing home in Sandy Spring, Md. Friends House has been trying for months to get a $500,000 FmHA loan for a 50bed expansion with a solar unit providing about half of the heat. Maryland's health planning agency has approved the plan and made a $625,000 grant.FmHA has balked. Atvarious times the agency has cited nursing-home standards of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (which HEW may be willing to waive); the absence of a similar, proven project in this area; and the lack of a demonstration grant from a federal energy agency. According to Friends House's architect, the projects's sponsors even offered to finance the solar system privately - and were told that would make them too rich to get FmHA aid at all.
Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (RMd.) has been pushing FmHA. But senatorial pressure should not be required. Promoting alternative energy systems does happen to be national policy. Solar technology can be especially effective in uncrowded rural areas and small towns. FmHA should be a leader, not a laggard, in this field. The Senate rural development subcommittee is having hearings on the Agriculture Department's energy policies later this month. Perhaps by then FmHA will have started to see the light.