US infrastructure bill could help co-ops offer broadband, clean energy and EV charging

‘We’ll continue to work with Congress to press for more co-op priorities to be included in the bigger infrastructure package’

bipartisan infrastructure bill approved by the Senate could provide billions of dollars for electric co-operative priorities, says US sector body NCBA CLUSA.

The fund would support development of broadband, electric vehicle charging networks and clean energy technology such as energy storage and carbon capture and other clean energy technologies. Electric co-ops have been identified as key players in rolling out this infrastructure into rural parts of the US.

The bill must still be taken up by the House, which is scheduled to return early from recess on Aug. 23.

“Investing in our energy infrastructure is vital to ensuring that electric co-operatives can continue to do what they do best: provide reliable, affordable power to 42 million Americans,” said Louis Finkel, NRECA’s senior vice president of government relations.

“Passage of this bill is a great start. We’ll continue to work with Congress to press for more co-op priorities to be included in the bigger infrastructure packages that lawmakers are expected to take up later this year.”

But NCBA CLUSA warns that the $550bn bill does not include the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, which would allow co-ops to save more than $10bn by repricing their existing Rural Utilities Service debt at current low interest rates without prepayment penalties. It also does not include legislation to provide co-ops with direct federal payments to develop renewable energy and battery storage projects.

Inclusion of those proposals was hampered by the absence of tax or agriculture sections, it says.

NRECA, the sector body for the country’s rural electric co-ops, says will continue to push for those two top priorities to be included in separate infrastructure legislation expected to be considered later this year.

But NCBA CLUSA says the bill does offer some key provisions benefiting co-ops:

  • Broadband: $65bn to connect rural communities and low-income urban residents with high-speed internet service. This includes $42.5bn for a broadband grant programme administered by the states, with co-ops eligible to participate.
  • Electric vehicles: $7.5bn for EV charging infrastructure. The money goes to the states to partner with co-ops and other businesses to create charging networks. The bill also provides $2.5bn for zero-emission school buses, another area where co-ops have been active.
  • Energy research and development: Billions to explore clean energy technologies to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Carbon capture: $3.5bn for large-scale carbon-capture projects, and $2.2bn to enable the capture of more carbon emissions by building storage infrastructure, including wells and pipelines.
  • Wind and solar: Boosts renewable energy by providing $400m for research and development into wind energyand $320m for solar energy.
  • Energy storage: Provides $355m for pilot projects that explore the potential of energy storage. An additional $150m would go toward an initiative that focuses on long-duration storage.