USDA Receives Record Number of Letters of Interest for Rural Energy Program
Last week, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that 157 letters of interest had been submitted to the competitive Empowering Rural America New ERA program, which is part of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). This program offers historic levels of financial support to rural communities to reinvest in their energy systems, lowering costs and upgrading infrastructure. The overwhelming response came from rural electric co-operatives in 40 states and Puerto Rico.
Impressive Investments and Community Impact
The submitted proposals, with leveraged private investment considered, represent an astounding $93 billion in investments in rural communities. More than 50 percent of the letters of interest indicate that they will serve distressed, disadvantaged, energy, or tribal communities. Additionally, the projects in the proposals could avoid 127 million tons of carbon emissions, which is equivalent to taking 24 million cars off the road for a year.
Rural Electric Co-Ops Leading the Way
Rural electric co-operatives, or co-ops, have shown their ingenuity and enterprise by identifying nearly $100 billion in clean energy investments. These investments have the potential to drive economic development and reduce energy costs in counties that greatly need relief. The New ERA program, along with the support of organizations like RMI (Rocky Mountain Institute), has provided resources to co-ops to support their engagement in this transformation.
Background: Co-Ops and Energy System Upgrades
Co-ops generate 13 percent of US electricity load and power 56 percent of the nation’s land mass. The system upgrades made possible by the New ERA program will provide more affordable sources of electricity for these vast service territories. It will also insulate co-op members from fuel supply issues that could otherwise result in unaffordable options.
The Largest Federal Investment Since 1936
The New ERA program represents the largest federal investment in rural energy systems since the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. Previously, co-ops were unable to take advantage of federal incentives to lower the cost of reinvestments in energy systems. However, the IRA’s “direct pay” provision now allows the federal government to cover 30 percent or more of co-op projects, in addition to any funding awarded through the New ERA program. These early indications of interest demonstrate the ambition and innovative capacity of rural America when given the support to build a better future.
© 2023 Rocky Mountain Institute. Published with permission. Originally posted on RMI.
Read More of this Story at cleantechnica.com – 2023-10-08 10:02:35
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