USDA is rolling out clean energy grants and preparing the grid for crazy weather

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Generally, I focus on issues dealing with agriculture, weather, climate and conservation on this blog space, but something big happened this month.  In what is being touted as the single largest investment in rural power infrastructure since the original passage of the 1936 Rural Electrification act, USDA rolled out nearly $11 billion in clean energy grants to electric cooperatives, municipalities and investor-owned utilizes in rural areas across the nation through two new loan and grant programs-the Empowering Rural America Program (ERA) and the Powering Affordable Clean Energy Program (PACE).

The first (and larger) program, the ERA, provides roughly $9.7 billion to build renewable energy programs, carbon capture systems and zero-emissions projects just for Rural Electric Cooperatives (RECs). The small PACE program provides $1 billion for partially forgivable loans to renewable energy developers and electric power producers including not just RECs but also municipal and investor-owned utilities in rural areas to help cover the cost of large-scale wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, geothermal and energy storage projects.

All of this has the potential to expand USDA’s utility lending to as high as $2.7 billion and help meet the goal that has been set by the Federal Government of having 100% clean energy by 2035.

In addition, the dollars are being targeted in an effort to not just expand clean energy in Rural America, but to also make the overall rural electric system more resilient—something that has taken on more urgency as we have seen an increase in extreme weather events.

All of this comes on top of the $10.5 billion that was invested last January through the Grid Resilience and Innovation and Partnership Program (GRIP), itself a major investment designed to help “harden” the nations power grid to extreme weather.

As someone who lives in Rural America, who is a member of an electric cooperative and has been without power for over a month in the depths of winter thanks to record ice storms in 2002, I understand the importance of strengthening our electrical system to extreme weather.   We need to get ready for these kinds of shocks in the future and these dollars should help us get there.

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