USDA calls on rural co-ops to pursue funding for solar energy systems
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program has initiated a call under the Empowering Rural America (New ERA) program. The initiative seeks to support rural cooperatives in deploying renewable energy systems, zero-emission and carbon capture systems.
The agency is offering $9.7 billion in grants, loans and loan modification funds to eligible cooperatives across the U.S. and its territories to implement these types of projects.
USDA Deputy Administrator Chris McLean, who is visiting Puerto Rico this week, told News is my Business that he is “very encouraged to learn that there are several cooperatives that are in development and in existence here in Puerto Rico, and Max [USDA Rural Development Puerto Rico State Director Maximiliano Trujillo] has been communicating with them.”
“So we’re hoping that we will get some applications. It’s going to be a competitive process,” McLean said. “The No. 1 rule that we have across the USDA for our funding competitions is you can’t win if you don’t enter. So, we want to encourage people to give it a shot. We tried to create a funding opportunity that has a very manageable first step.”
Rural cooperatives, including current and previous USDA borrowers, must submit their letters of intent on or before 11:59 p.m., Sept. 15. An application guide and a letter of intent template will be available for download.
Applications will be grouped by like-sized co-op’s, according to their funding category, McLean said.
The New ERA program provides up to 25% grant support to the winning proposals, with financing interest rates as low as 0%. Rural cooperatives are encouraged to submit proposals as soon as they are ready. The USDA said it will invite applicants that score highest to submit a full application.
While the USDA’s Rural Development office is primarily known for its investments in housing programs, McLean said that the “USDA is a major lender to a lot of folks who live outside of San Juan.” He is part of a delegation of U.S. officials, led by Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, in Puerto Rico to follow up on several projects underway and planned for energy resilience.
In Puerto Rico, the agency plays a significant role in providing infrastructure or infrastructure improvements to rural communities. One of the agency’s biggest local borrowers is the Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (PRASA), which is already engaging in solar power purchase agreements to equip its stations with alternate sources of energy to continue operating when regular service is interrupted.