USDA funding for rural energy systems

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prepares to implement new programs from the Inflation Reduction Act that offer billions for electric cooperative projects, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) weighs in on how to optimize these opportunities for co-ops.

“We encourage the department to make these opportunities truly supportive of the co-op mission to deliver reliable and affordable power to their members,” said Russ Wasson, NRECA senior director of regulatory affairs.

Among the new programs is a $9.7 billion grant and loan program designed specifically for electric co-ops for a range of eligible projects, including carbon capture, renewable energy, storage, nuclear, and generation and transmission efficiency improvements.

This Assistance for Rural Electric Cooperatives program allows each co-op to pursue funding based on its unique circumstances. Co-ops would be able to receive a grant for as much as 25 percent of their project cost, with a maximum of $970 million for any one entity.

The law also created a $1 billion forgivable loan program to deploy renewable energy resources. The law gives a $2 billion boost to the Rural Energy for America Program, which offers grants and loans for rural efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems.

NRECA submitted recommendations to the USDA on Nov. 28, 2022 to share how these federal funding programs can be more efficient, effective and practical for co-ops.

“These programs provide significant increased capabilities for co-ops as they invest in their systems,” Wasson said. “These programs were included in the Inflation Reduction Act due to years of sustained engagement between electric co-op leaders and lawmakers.

“With our nearly century-old partnership with USDA and this extraordinary funding, we will continue our work that began in the 1930s for the future benefit of those folks at the end of the line.”