WHAT THEY ARE SAYING: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Largest Investment in Rural Electrification Since the New Deal
Yesterday, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the availability of nearly $11 billion in grants and loan opportunities as part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda that will help rural energy and utility providers bring affordable, reliable clean energy to their communities across the country. This USDA program represents the single largest investment in rural electrification since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act into law in 1936.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced this new funding at a White House event that featured Senior Advisor to the President John Podesta, National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Senator Michael Bennet, Senator Tina Smith, and Representative Abigail Spanberger. The event also included remarks from the Honorable Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and a panel of diverse voices representing cooperatives and communities who can benefit from these programs.
Americans read about the announcement in national stories from the Associated Press, Reuters, CNBC, The Hill, and others; in local papers and on local stations in Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Texas, Vermont, Tennessee, and Colorado; and in trade outlets like Brownfield Ag News, Progressive Farmer, and Utility Dive.
Leaders and organizations from across the country praised the announcement. Here’s what they’re saying:
Members of Congress
Michigan Senator and Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow: “It was great to join @SecVilsack, @SenTinaSmith, and @SenatorBennet to announce the biggest investment in rural electricity since the New Deal!” [Tweet]
Representative of Georgia’s 13th District and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member David Scott: “When House Democrats passed the Inflation Reduction Act last year, I was adamant that it include ample funding to help rural America embrace a clean energy future. By making $11 billion in Federal funding available to rural electric cooperatives and other power providers that have invested in clean energy production and storage, the Biden-Harris Administration is keeping its word to help lower energy costs in rural communities and transition to renewable energy sources. I thank Secretary Vilsack for ensuring this critical funding gets to the people and businesses that need it, and President Biden for his continued commitment to rural communities across the country.” [Statement]
Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia’s 7th District: “Today, I joined House and Senate colleagues, USDA @SecVilsack, and White House officials to celebrate smart investments—thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act—that will bring sustainable energy to our rural communities, lower electric bills, and create high-paying jobs.” [Tweet]
Rural Electric Cooperatives
Jim Matheson, CEO of National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA): “This is an exciting and transformative opportunity for co-ops and their local communities, particularly as we look toward a future that depends on electricity to power more of the economy,” Matheson said. “USDA has smartly structured this program in a way that will help electric co-ops leverage new tools to reduce costs and keep energy affordable while meeting the future energy needs of their rural communities. I’m grateful to USDA for listening to us throughout this process and for settling on rules that ensure the program is flexible and accessible to all electric cooperatives.” [Statement]
Deenise Becenti, Public Affairs at Navajo Tribal Utility Authority: “…With this act, it comes as a life-saving measure—literally. Because now, families can bring home their loved ones who are dependent on an oxygen machine. Single mothers don’t have to worry about having to keep the food fresh…this act today helps us bring that opportunity to families—to bring positive changes to lifestyle in our rural area, our beloved homeland called the Navajo Nation.”
Lisa Johnson, CEO of Seminole Electric Cooperative: “This opportunity would allow us to pursue new technology on our system today in a way that makes the most sense for us and the communities we serve.” [Twitter]
Curtis Wynn, CEO of Sumter Electric Cooperative: “It really gives us an opportunity to provide the kind of service that everybody deserves.” [Twitter]
Mike Partin, CEO of Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative: “We mark when rural electrification started, we mark that on our calendar. That’s a big day for us. We celebrate that. And I think that’s where we’re seeing today, a point where we’re going to celebrate. It’s going to be marked on the calendar.” [Statement]
Climate and Environmental Groups
Michelle Moore, CEO of Groundswell and Author of Rural Renaissance: “Our energy systems are undergoing a massive, global transformation. Decarbonization, the electrification of the transportation sector, and bringing energy sector manufacturing and good paying jobs back home to the USA are creating extraordinary opportunities for clean economic growth. At the same time, rural Americans bear the highest energy burdens in the country, despite low energy rates, because underinvestment and disinvestment in rural infrastructure has created rural/urban housing disparities that drive big energy bills. And the big rural renewable energy projects serving urban and industrial energy customers often don’t share the savings with local small towns. We can do better! That’s why the USDA’s investment in rural power couldn’t come at a better time because it gives us 11 billion opportunities to make sure that building our clean energy futures also revitalizes our hometowns.”
Brianna Knisley, Tennessee Campaign Manager for Appalachian Voices and a member of the Rural Power Coalition: “These new opportunities can have a tremendous impact in rural America by reducing energy bills and creating jobs while improving air quality. Rural electric cooperatives should submit their letter of inquiry in August to make sure their member-owners can access these benefits!” [Statement]
Amanda Pankau, Senior Energy Campaign Coordinator at Prairie Rivers Network: “Today’s historic investment has the opportunity to transform energy generation in Illinois rural communities, reduce air and water pollution, and help meet our state and national climate goals.” [Instagram post]
Ben Jealous, Executive Director of Sierra Club: “Rural cooperatives deliver energy to 92% of counties experiencing persistent poverty across the country. Yet, for decades, they have been shut out of the opportunities critical federal programs provide, driving up energy costs for those who can least afford it. We’re pleased the Biden Administration is continuing to advance this critical program, which has the potential to finally drive down energy costs for working families while positioning rural cooperatives as clean energy leaders.” [Statement]
Sandra Purohit, Federal Policy Director for E2: “These pivotal investments help ensure the economic revolution that’s underway right now reaches all corners of America — including rural America. It’s another sign of how transformative IRA investments can be for creating new economic opportunities while helping our environment. With proper siting and environmental safeguards, these investments can help rural areas thrive in the clean energy transition. They will also help rural families and business save money by improving access to the cheapest energy available – clean energy.” [Statement]
Matthew Davis, Vice President of Policy at League of Conservation Voters: “We applaud President Biden and Secretary Vilsack for following through on the commitments made in the president’s affordable clean energy plan to make clean electricity more accessible to rural communities. At a time when House Republicans are threatening to cut funding for clean energy projects that create family-supporting jobs and healthier communities, the Biden-Harris administration is making sure that no one is left behind and everyone can thrive in a new clean energy economy. Providing these funds to rural cooperatives could be particularly helpful to meeting the administration’s Justice40 initiatives.” [Statement]
Mattea Mrkusic, Policy Lead at Evergreen Action: “Rural electric providers are often still heavily reliant on expensive, polluting coal plants. But the $10.7 billion in funding announced today is a game changing opportunity for these providers to lead the clean energy transition without ever compromising on reliability or affordability for the customers they serve. The New ERA program will provide rural electric cooperatives with $9.7 billion in grants and loans to decarbonize their fleet, whether they’re refinancing existing loans to accelerate the retirement of stranded assets or investing in renewable energy sources and systems. The PACE program will provide $1 billion in partially forgivable loans to eligible recipients, like renewable energy developers, rural electric cooperatives and municipalities, to finance large-scale solar, wind, geothermal, and more. These two programs will reduce costs and climate pollution, all while improving air quality in rural communities—particularly for the fenceline communities surrounding polluting facilities. It’s a slam-dunk win for coops, their ratepayers, and anyone who likes to breathe. But time is ticking. With deadlines for initial letters of interest fast approaching, rural electric providers must act now to seize this tremendous opportunity.” [Statement]