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Rural America is getting $11 billion in funding to cut energy costs with renewable power

A herd of sheep graze underneath solar panels in tall grass.
Image Credit: Flickr/Agrisolar Clearinghouse

The renewable rewiring of America is going up the country thanks to $11 billion in grants and loans for low-cost solar and wind power provided by the U.S. government.

The initiative, part of the Biden-Harris Administration's Inflation Reduction Act represents the single largest investment in rural electrification since 1936.

“The Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to cleaner energy provides rural communities with an affordable and reliable power grid, while supporting thousands of new jobs and helping lower energy costs in the future,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, in a statement. “These investments will also combat climate change and significantly reduce air and water pollution that put children’s health at risk. The U.S. Department of Agriculture stands ready to partner with municipalities, tribal entities, entrepreneurs, rural electric cooperatives and other utilities to see this transformative investment come to life and create new economic growth and healthier communities.”

There's $9.7 billion in funding coming from the Department of Agriculture under the Empowering Rural America program. That program will give funds to rural electric cooperatives to build out renewable energy systems, zero-emission energy and carbon capture systems.

It's the kitchen sink approach that could yield more hydrogen production facilities, and add carbon capture and storage or use technologies on the back of existing fossil-fuel powered systems.

That mix could make the initiative less palatable to climate purists who would prefer that all of the energy coming on the grid be produced from renewable power, but the allowances for dirtier fuels may make the funding easier to digest in states that are passing laws to block renewable development.

What's also interesting about this initiative is that anyone who has received a loan from the USDA is eligible for the ERA funding. That could spur a new generation of renewable energy development among large landowners that can combine solar and wind power projects with existing farming operations.

Another $1 billion from the USDA will be earmarked for the Powering Affordable Clean Energy program, which funnels forgivable loans to renewable-energy developers, electric service providers -- including tribal utilities -- to finance large-scale solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydropower projects in support of renewable energy systems, according to a statement.

These low risk loans -- 40% of the loan is forgivable for most rural communities, while tribal utilities, and developers in Puerto Rico and Micronesia can get 60% of their loans forgiven -- should spur development in areas deemed to be higher risk from a financing standpoint.

“This new funding from the Inflation Reduction Act shows that President Biden, and our entire administration, is serious about investing in rural America,” said John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation. “This announcement embodies what the Investing in America Agenda is all about—building a clean energy economy that works for everyone.”

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