Department of Agriculture Sows Clean Energy Future with $11 Billion for Rural Projects

June 16, 2023

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The Great Depression saw President Franklin D. Roosevelt electrify rural America; the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 was a cornerstone of FDR’s New Deal, his economic plan to resuscitate the flagging economy with innovative government legislation, projects, and programs. FDR afforded rural America electricity, facilitating low-cost loans to farmers to transform life for communities.

Eighty-seven years after FDR signed this groundbreaking law, the Biden Administration carried the torch into the 21st century by designating nearly $11 billion for rural electrification. Fueled by the Inflation Reduction Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will administer two programs: the Empowering Rural America (New ERA) program and the Powering Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) program. Both programs are intended to further the Biden Administration’s commitment to the clean energy revolution, offering rural communities from coast to coast “clean, affordable, and reliable energy.”

Are You Eligible for the Billions of Dollars in Project Incentives?

The New ERA program has $9.7 billion available in loans and grants. New ERA funds are designed for “energy efficiency improvements to eligible generation and transmission systems, to purchase, build, or deploy renewable energy, zero-emission systems, carbon capture storage systems, or to purchase renewable energy.” New ERA applicants are eligible only if they are rural electric cooperatives. Opening on July 31, 2023, the program application window will close on August 31, 2023.

The PACE program has $1 billion available in loans. Applicants must submit a Letter of Interest before September 29, 2023. PACE funds are focused on making “it more affordable for rural Americans to use clean, reliable energy to heat and cool their homes, run their businesses, and power their cars, schools, and hospitals.” PACE applicants are eligible if they are power-providing entities serving both rural and nonrural areas.

Be sure to visit both New ERA and PACE’s fact sheets for more information on eligibility – or reach out to GNA, North America’s leading clean transportation and energy consulting firm that is tracking these vital programs. These programs are indeed vital for the social, economic, and environmental well-being of the nation.

How is this Program Relevant to Clean Transportation Stakeholders?

Ask any fleet manager, and they will tell you that the lack of necessary infrastructure to build electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE), or electric chargers, is a primary concern. Luckily, USDA’s investment in rural electrification is an investment in future clean fueling.

USDA’s new programs perfectly complement clean fuels initiatives like the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program and the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure (CFI) Discretionary Grant Program. USDA’s $11 billion in funding, coupled with the $7.5 billion for NEVI and CFI, will contribute to the clean energy supply chain — optimizing the nation’s move to zero-emission transportation.

Of note, both USDA programs will help farmers electrify their off-road equipment with affordable and reliable electricity necessary for EVSE. The stimulus for clean energy infrastructure will help defray higher upfront costs, supporting stakeholders like family-owned businesses looking to electrify their fleets.

How Will New ERA and PACE Make a Lasting Impact?

Enriching the nation’s triple bottom line, New ERA and PACE will leave an indelible mark on the clean energy landscape with social, economic, and environmental benefits. First, the nation’s infrastructure needs system-wide upgrades to increase energy resilience and reduce outages – increasing reliability. These programs will repair and strengthen the electricity value chain. Second, there exists a “rural-urban divide” in the country. Resources are allocated inequitably across rural and urban landscapes, leaving many rural communities in the dust when it comes to reliable infrastructure. Third, American families living in rural communities face unique economic challenges. The USDA has reported that 84% of places facing persistent poverty in America are rural counties as of 2020.

The New ERA and PACE programs specifically prioritize bridging this divide with new social, economic, and environmental benefits.

Next Steps

Visit the USDA’s press release from May 16 and the webpages for both the Empowering Rural America (New ERA) program and the Powering Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) program for more details. As this initiative is centered on equity, check out the Biden Administration’s whole-of-government Justice40 Initiative to strengthen your application by doing well while doing good.

Could your firm, agency, or organization use some help navigating the incentives, regulations, and policies coming to your fleet due to these new policies?

GNA, North America’s leading clean transportation and energy consulting firm, is here to help. Reach out if you would like to strategize around environmental justice and clean transportation. Here’s to a season full of transformational clean transportation – and human – investment.