US electric co-ops invited to apply for renewable energy funding

The scheme is dedicated solely to electric co-ops and will award funds on a competitive basis to cover 25% of the cost of a qualifying project

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has asked rural co-operatives to send letters of interest for a rural renewable energy systems fund.

The initiative, part of the Empowering Rural America (New Era) Program to help rural co-ops install renewable energy systems, zero-emission, and carbon capture systems, sees USDA offer US$9.7bn in grants, loans, and loan modification.

The scheme is dedicated solely to electric co-ops and will award funds on a competitive basis to cover 25% of the cost of a qualifying project completed by 30 September 2031.

Co-ops have until 15 September to apply for funding via the portal. Applicant that score highest will be invited by USDA to submit a full application within 60 days.

Rural electric co-ops can partner with other eligible co-operatives and submit their joint proposal in a single letter of interest Sample letters are available here.

The New Era Program was established through the Inflation Reduction Act, a federal law seeking to reduce inflation while tackling climate change. The law, the USA’s most significant climate legislation to date, is the largest single investment in rural electrification since the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.

Related: US co-ops respond to the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act

Additional funding for rural electric co-ops is also available via the Powering Affordable Clean Energy (Pace) Program which offers partially forgivable loans from 20% to 60%, depending on the population served by the renewable energy project. USDA is accepting letters of interest for Pace, which is available to electric service providers including co-ops, for-profits, municipals and tribal and investor-owned utilities, until 29 September 2023. Loans ranging from $1m to $100m will be awarded on a rolling basis. 

“The $11bn investments through the Pace and New Era programs present a unique opportunity for co-operatives to play an instrumental role in transforming rural America’s energy landscape while aligning with the nation’s sustainable development objectives,” said the National Co-operative Business Association (NCBA Clusa).

Interested co-ops can find out more about the two programme by watching a recorded webinar led by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and USDA Rural Utilities Service and email questions about the New Era or Pace programs to  [email protected].

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for interested electric co-ops to leverage an unprecedented amount of federal funding for a wide range of clean energy projects,” NRECA regulatory affairs director, Luke Theriot, said in an article for NRECA’s website. “NRECA encourages electric co-ops to utilise these resources to assist their pursuit of this historic federal funding opportunity.”