As part of the Obama Administration’s goal of doubling renewable energy production by 2012, America’s rural electric cooperatives are stepping forward to develop new, sustainable ways to produce electricity. These efforts are not only good for the environment; they help meet an expanding need for power due to growing rural consumer demand. The Rural Utilities Service (RUS), part of USDA’s Rural Development mission area, is a willing and ready partner in this effort.
In fiscal year 2010, RUS approved loan guarantees and grants totaling $319 million to finance renewable energy projects in states stretching from Alaska to Virginia and from Arizona to North Dakota. These projects are providing jobs and helping to keep the lights on across some of the most remote areas of rural America.
As an example, North Dakota’s Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which serves parts of nine states, has received loan guarantees from RUS to fund wind projects that will generate an estimated 120 MW. When these projects are completed, wind power is expected to equal 20 percent of the utility’s current load. That’s enough power to provide for the annual needs of 175,000 American residences.
In Arizona, the Navajo Tribal Authority recently received an RUS loan guarantee that will finance off-grid solar power systems to serve members’ homes. In Massachusetts, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe received grant funds to make energy improvements and install a solar energy system. Funds to allow rural communities to turn waste to energy have been provided to the American Samoa Power Authority, and a Maine school is installing a biomass-fueled heating system. Alaska’s Denali Commission received grant funds for renewable and energy efficiency projects. Also in the Pacific region, RUS is guaranteeing a loan to the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative to improve its hydroelectric plant and install a combustion turbine that can use a biodiesel-naphtha mix to generate electricity.
A rural agricultural region of Virginia will benefit from a hydroelectric project being developed through the efforts of the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. Not only will the current residents benefit, the project will allow commercial and industrial customers to expand, increasing job opportunities in the region.
Production of renewable energy from sources like these will help to make power generation costs more predictable, improve reliability and generate increased income, particularly for residents of rural communities. RUS has helped bring electricity to rural America for 75 years and we’re working closely with cooperatives and customers across the Nation to meet the demands of a growing, expanding rural economy.
To learn more about USDA’s energy programs, including those administered through RUS, click here. To learn more about a meeting for producers interested in developing renewable energy opportunities click here.