The Biden administration on Tuesday announced nearly $11 billion in grants and loans to help rural energy and utility providers bring affordable clean energy to their communities across the U.S.
Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a media briefing the funding will provide rural areas with a more dependable power grid and help lower future energy costs. Rural electric cooperatives, renewable energy firms and electric utilities can apply for funding through two programs under President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act signed into law in August.
The new money represents the single largest federal investment in rural electrification since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act into law in 1936, the White House said.
“These investments will also combat climate change and significantly reduce air and water pollution that put children’s health at risk,” Vilsack said.
The Empowering Rural America program makes $9.7 billion available to eligible rural electric cooperatives to deploy renewable energy systems, zero-emission and carbon-capture systems. Rural electric cooperatives, which serve 42 million people across the country, will be eligible to apply for grants starting July 31, the USDA said.
Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, which represents nearly 900 local cooperatives, applauded the administration for the funding.
“This is an exciting and transformative opportunity for co-ops and their local communities, particularly as we look toward a future that depends on electricity to power more of the economy,” Matheson said in a statement. “USDA has smartly structured this program in a way that will help electric co-ops leverage new tools to reduce costs and keep energy affordable while meeting the future energy needs of their rural communities.”
The Powering Affordable Clean Energy program makes $1 billion available in partially forgivable loans to renewable energy developers and electric-service providers, such as municipals, cooperatives, and investor-owned and tribal utilities, USDA said. The application period for those loans begins June 30.
That program will finance large-scale solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydropower projects and energy storage to bolster renewable energy systems. The White House in a news release said the goal of the program is to make clean energy affordable for vulnerable, disadvantaged and tribal communities.
“For so many of our rural communities, this is simply a game-changer,” National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi said. “It’s a big deal.”