The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a nearly $11 billion investment Tuesday to help bring affordable clean energy in rural communities across the country.
Rural electric cooperatives, renewable energy companies and electric utilities can apply for funding through two programs, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a media briefing on Monday.
Vilsack said this is the largest single federal investment in rural electrification since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act in 1936 as part of the New Deal.
“This is an exciting opportunity for the Rural Utility Service to work with our great partners, the Rural Electric cooperatives, to advance a clean energy future for rural America,” Vilsack said. “So this is an exciting and a historic day, and it continues an ongoing effort to ensure that rural America is a full participant in this clean energy economy.”
The Empowering Rural America program will make $9.7 billion available for rural electric cooperatives produce renewable energyzero-emission and carbon capture system.
Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, praised the administration for the investment.
“This is an exciting and transformative opportunity for co-ops and their local communities, especially as we look to a future that relies on electricity to make the economy stronger,” Matheson said. “The USDA has wisely structured this program in a way that will help electric co-ops use new tools to reduce costs and keep energy affordable while meeting future energy needs. in their rural communities.”
The Powering Affordable Clean Energy program will make $1 billion available in partially-forgivable loans for renewable energy companies and electric utilities to help finance renewable energy projects such as large solar, wind and geothermal plants. project.
The Department of Agriculture said in a press release that the goal of this program is to provide affordable clean energy to vulnerable, poor and Indigenous communities. But there is tension between building a clean energy infrastructure for everyone and mining the materials. required for such infrastructure.
For example, conservationists and Native communities in Nevada have sued in the block the opening of the largest mine planned in the US for the extraction of lithium used in electric vehicle batteries.
When asked about tribal concerns about mineral extraction at Monday’s briefing, Vilsack said there would be “significant tribal consultation” for mining projects on land controlled by his agency. But when pressed on what would happen if an Indigenous community said no to a mining project, he refused to answer the question, calling it hypothetical.
Rural electric cooperatives can apply for grants, loans and loan modifications through the Empowering Rural America program between July 31 and August 31. The application period for the Powering Affordable Clean program Energy is June 30 — Sept.
Experts told The Associated Press that these programs could have a significant impact for rural America. “The ERA Program has the potential to help rural electric co-ops and municipal co-ops move the needle toward a cleaner, less carbon-intensive electric mix,” said Felix Mormann, a Texas law professor. A&M University specializing in energy law and policy.
The programs had relatively less impact on electricity growth in rural communities than the Rural Electrification Act of the New Deal era, said Carl Kitchens, an associate professor of economics at Florida State University.
“When implemented in the 1930s, only 10 percent of farms had electricity; by 1950, it had risen to more than 90 percent,” Kitchens said. “Today, electricity is almost universal except for a few small pockets and areas of land that are reserved.”
Funding for the new programs comes from the Inflation Reduction Act, which created hundreds of billions of dollars for the renewable energy transition and environmental cleanup. In February, the Biden administration announced details of how states and nonprofits can apply for $27 billion in funding from a ” green bank.” The following month, officials announced $2 billion to make the Rural Energy for America Program.
And since the start of the year, they’ve announced hundreds of millions of dollars for shifting renewable energy away from climate-warming fossil fuels, cleaning up the environment and mitigating climate change in poor and marginalized communities. color