USDA Gets 150+ Queries for $9.7B Rural Clean Energy Program



The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has received 157 letters of interest for its Empowering Rural America New ERA program, which offers financial support for rural communities to upgrade their energy infrastructure. The proposals submitted represent $93 billion in investments and 127 million tons of potential carbon emissions reduction. The New ERA program, the largest federal investment in rural energy systems since the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, allows co-ops to receive federal coverage for 30% or more of their projects.

USDA’s New Era Program receives overwhelming response

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently reported an impressive 157 letters of interest for the competitive New ERA program. This initiative, which forms part of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), proposes remarkable financial backing for rural areas to augment their energy systems, reducing costs and enhancing resilience against extreme weather situations. The majority of these enthusiastic responses stemmed from rural electric co-operatives in 40 states and Puerto Rico.

Program Highlights

According to the USDA, these proposals present potential $93 billion investments in the rural U.S., serve distressed, disadvantaged, energy, or tribal communities, and could reduce carbon emissions by 127 million tons.

Clean energy expert Uday Varadarajan commended the rural cooperatives for identifying nearly $100 billion in clean energy investments, which could foster economic development and lower energy costs in needful counties.

Role of RMI

RMI (formerly Rocky Mountain Institute) provided resources to help applicants and found there is $220 billion potential value from wind and solar projects in rural America between 2020 and 2030. This high interest level in the New ERA program indicates rural electric co-ops are primed for these investments.

Impact on Co-ops

Co-ops provide 13 percent of US electricity but cover 56 percent of the nation’s land mass. System upgrades would offer affordable electricity and insulation from fuel supply issues that could leave the rural population with costly options. The New ERA program presents the largest federal investment in rural energy systems since 1936. Co-ops can now access federal incentives to lower the cost of reinvestments in energy systems, thanks to the IRA’s “direct pay” provision. This demonstrates the potential of rural America when provided the necessary support.

Publication Rights

© 2023 Rocky Mountain Institute. Published with permission. Originally posted on RMI.

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