WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled guidelines for nearly $11 billion in funds to bring affordable clean energy to rural communities. U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that announcement represented the largest single federal investment in rural electrification since the New Deal.
Rural electric cooperatives, renewable energy companies and electric utilities will be able to apply for funding through two programs. The Empowering Rural America program will make $9.7 billion available for rural electric co-ops to create renewable energy, zero-emission and carbon capture systems. An additional $1 billion will be available through the Powering Affordable Clean Energy program in the form of partially-forgivable loans for renewable energy companies and electric utilities to finance large-scale solar, wind and geothermal projects.
Mike Partin, CEO of Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative in South Pittsburg, Tenn., and board secretary of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, along with NRECA CEO Jim Matheson and other co-op leaders, attended a launch event at the White House today in Washington, D.C.
“This is an exciting opportunity for electric cooperatives and the communities they serve,” said Partin. “These funds will help electric co-ops build a more robust power grid while protecting our members from higher rates. We appreciate the USDA for their efforts to understand the needs of rural America.”
Mike Knotts, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, commended the USDA’s announcement. “Rural America cannot be left behind, and targeted funds like this will ensure that we are not,” said Knotts. “These programs create a unique opportunity for electric co-ops to make strategic investments that will have a lasting impact on the people and places they serve.”
The recently issued guidance provides electric cooperatives with a timeframe, running from July 31 to Aug. 31, to submit letters of interest and initiate the application process for funding eligible projects. These projects encompass a wide range of areas such as renewable energy, carbon capture, energy storage, nuclear power, as well as improvements in generation and transmission efficiency.
In the image: RUS Administrator and former Mayor of Chattanooga, Andy Berke, left, and Mike Partin, CEO of Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, speaking, are joined by other electric cooperative leaders at a launch event at the White House on Tuesday, May 16.