White House Announces Investment in Renewable Energy in Rural Communities

May 16, 2023

The Department of Agriculture on Tuesday announced nearly $11 billion in renewable energy funding to rural communities across the U.S.

“Building clean energy projects in the U.S. at the speed and scale needed to adequately address the climate crisis requires strategic reforms that improve the way such projects are sited and permitted at the federal, state and local levels,” the White House said in a statement. “The Administration is acting to move projects forward, using its existing authority to accelerate the federal permitting process.”

During a media briefing Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pointed to two separate programs that he said would open funding to rural electric cooperatives, renewable energy companies and electric utilities.

The Empowering Rural America program will make available $9.7 billion for rural electric cooperatives to create renewable energy, zero-emission and carbon capture systems.

The Powering Affordable Clean Energy program will release another $1 billion in partially-forgivable loans for renewable energy companies and electric utilities to help finance such projects as large-scale solar, wind and geothermal power.

The goal of the programs are to provide affordable clean energy to vulnerable, disadvantaged and Indigenous communities. Vilsack called it the single largest federal investment in electric power to rural communities since FDR signed the Rural Electrification Act in 1936 as part of the New Deal.

However, mining the rare earth materials needed to fuel the shift to green energy has hit some snags.

For instance, conservationists and indigenous communities in Nevada have sued to prevent the opening of a mine to extract lithium for the powering of electric vehicle batteries.

Vilsack has said there will be “significant tribal consultation” for mining on land the Agriculture Department controls. He demurred when asked what happens if an indigenous community doesn’t give its okay.

Funding for the new, rural renewal energy projects comes from the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed last year.

Rural electric cooperatives can apply for grants, loans and loan modifications through the Empowering Rural America program from July 31 through August 31. The application period for the Powering Affordable Clean Energy program is June 30 through Sept. 29.

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