By Leah Douglas
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Rural electric cooperatives, utilities, and other energy providers will soon be able to apply for nearly $11 billion in grants and loans for clean energy projects, funded by the $430 billion Inflation Reduction Act signed into law last August, the Biden administration said on Tuesday.
Expanding clean energy to rural communities is critical to meeting the administration’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, officials told reporters on a Monday press call.
“This is an exciting and an historic day and continues an ongoing effort to ensure that rural America is a full participant in the clean energy economy,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the call.
Rural electric cooperatives will be eligible to apply beginning July 31 for $9.7 billion in grants for deploying renewable energy, zero-emission, and carbon capture systems, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) said.
Renewable energy developers and electric service providers like municipal and Tribal utilities will be eligible to apply beginning June 30 for another $1 billion in partially forgivable loans for financing wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and other renewable energy projects, USDA said.
At a White House event to mark the investment on Tuesday, Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the funds were “an important piece of how we commit to rural America.”
“This is really about saying to people in rural America, we want you to stay there, we want your kids to come home there, and to have a quality of life there,” she said.
On the call with reporters, White House advisor John Podesta said the money would bring good-paying jobs to rural communities and National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi said the investment would be a “game-changer.”
Rural electric cooperatives serve 42 million people and draw about 22% of their energy from renewable sources, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).
The NRECA, a trade association, cheered the Tuesday announcement as a “transformative opportunity for co-ops and their local communities.”
The new funds will help rural electric cooperatives reach parity with private utility companies who have already begun significant investment in clean energy, Vilsack told reporters.
“We have a climate crisis that requires all of America to participate in reducing emissions to get to the net-zero future,” Vilsack said.
(Reporting by Leah Douglas; Editing by Stephen Coates, Alexandra Hudson and Nick Zieminski)