USDA sees record demand for clean energy funding in rural America

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Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA has seen a record demand for funding to advance affordable and reliable clean energy in rural America. This demand is under key programs enabled by President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant clean energy and climate investment in history and the most substantial investment in rural energy infrastructure. As a component of Bidenomics and the President’s Investing in America agenda, these programs aim to reduce energy costs for consumers and small businesses and generate well-paying jobs throughout rural America.

“The Biden-Harris Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act is spurring investments in rural communities nationwide, especially in areas that have been neglected or overlooked for too long,” Vilsack stated. “Our initiatives present a significant chance to establish a clean energy economy in rural America. This will decrease energy expenses, bolster energy security, create well-paying jobs, and achieve our climate objectives. Rural America’s and rural electric cooperatives’ response to these programs is a strong endorsement of federal funding for clean energy infrastructure. This will aid farmers, rural small businesses, and individuals by reducing energy costs and paving the way for economic opportunities for future generations.”

The Inflation Reduction Act allocated nearly $13 billion to bolster clean energy infrastructure in rural America via USDA Rural Development programs. This funding will assist qualifying entities in constructing renewable energy and zero-emission systems. It will also support energy-efficiency enhancements that will notably improve affordability and reliability while curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Department has witnessed unprecedented demand nationwide for the subsequent programs:

Empowering Rural America (New ERA) Program

In May, the USDA earmarked $9.7 billion for the New ERA program. This is for member-owned rural electric cooperatives to enable rural Americans to access clean, affordable, and dependable energy. Rural electric cooperatives form the foundation of America’s power distribution. This allocation signifies the most considerable growth in investment in rural America’s electrical system since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted the Rural Electrification Act in 1936.

By September 15, the period for submitting letters of interest had ended. The USDA obtained 157 proposals from almost every state, including Puerto Rico, for over 750 top-tier clean energy projects in rural areas. The astounding response from rural electric cooperatives was more than double the $9.7 billion in grant and loan funds that Congress had set aside for this initiative.

Powering Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) Program

In May, the USDA designated $1 billion for the PACE program to finance new clean energy ventures and energy storage in rural America.

To date, the USDA has garnered requests surpassing $7.8 billion through letters of interest. The Department anticipates more submissions as the September 29 deadline nears.

Rural Energy for America Program (REAP)

For Fiscal Year 2022, the USDA received applications worth $75 million under REAP. This is to assist agricultural activities and rural small business proprietors in establishing clean energy systems and implementing energy-efficient modifications.

For Fiscal Year 2023, backed by the Inflation Reduction Act, the USDA has garnered nearly $900 million in funding requests.

Conservation Programs

On September 19, the USDA disclosed that it had also observed a significantly higher interest than the funds available under the Inflation Reduction Act. This is for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs. These programs aid farmers and ranchers in broadening conservation practices that diminish greenhouse gas emissions and enhance carbon storage.