RUS’s Berke: Funding Programs Provide a Look Into the Rural Electric Cooperative Future

Randy Sukow

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Andy Berke administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) made a surprise appearance at a TechAdvantage session to update attendees on the status of the Empowering Rural America (New ERA) and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs to fund rural smart grid/clean energy projects. He had some encouraging thoughts about the future of electric cooperatives that are clearly eager to build new technologies.

Berke said he had read over many of the co-op requests to fund projects and was impressed. “The great news to me … is that you’ve shown us the future of co-ops. You’ve shown us what the clean energy transition looks like and what your imagination has spurred.”

The New ERA program, established by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, offers $9.7 billion exclusively to electric cooperatives building solar, wind, power storage and other clean energy projects. Burke said he initially expected to attract requests for little more than the allocated $9.7 billion. “But then we got requests of $47 billion worth of funding,” he said. 

During the session, Claire Sierawski, senior energy counselor for RUS, said that the agency has analyze all the PACE proposals and has chosen nearly all the top-scoring participants who will proceed with the process. An announcement of the first PACE awards could come soon she said. The $1 billion PACE program awards loans for clean energy programs and returns discounts on loans at the completion of the project.

RUS also has completed analysis of the many proposals cooperatives filed in September 2022. Sierawski said participants will soon receive letters accepting them to continue the process. She said co-ops should expect the letters to go out in “batches” over the coming months.

For those who receive the green light from RUS, NRTC solar and storage partner ENGIE has developed a New ERA Application Checklist to help guide them through the next steps toward funding.

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