Guest commentary: New opportunity for American heartland

Wind, solar and other renewable energy projects offer a significant opportunity to revitalize rural communities and diversify the local economy.

Increased tax revenue from renewable energy projects enables school districts, cities and other entities address local emergency service and infrastructure improvement needs without additional tax burden. Farmers and landowners can earn additional income through land-lease payments from project developers, and new job opportunities arise during the development, construction and operation of a project.

Such economic benefits have not gone unnoticed in Washington, D.C.

With $1 billion in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development arm is set to make one of the largest investments in rural electrical service in almost 90 years.

The Powering Affordable Clean Energy program will provide partially forgivable loans to renewable-energy developers and electrical service providers, including municipalities, cooperatives and investor- and tribe-owned utilities. The loans can be used to finance large-scale solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and hydropower projects, as well as storage in support of such renewable energy systems.

In selecting projects to fund, the USDA will emphasize development in rural areas. Eligible applicants can serve both rural and non-rural areas, but at least 50% of their population base must lie in communities of 20,000 or less.

The USDA will open the loan process by accepting letters of interest between June 30 and Sept. 29. The agency will then invite eligible entities to submit an application.

Through the Inflation Reduction Act, the agency is making a substantial investment in rural America. It’s time for developers and electrical service providers to follow suit, with input from rural residents and customers.

Lindsay Mouw is a policy analyst with the Center for Rural Affairs, a private non-profit working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and rural communities. For more information, visit rd.usda.gov/programs-services/electric-programs.