Andy Olsen

Build Back Better Boosts Rural Clean Energy

The Build Back Better (BBB) framework outlines a historic boost for REAP – the Rural Energy for America Program – at $2 billion over ten years.

The Build Back Better (BBB) framework released on October 28, 2021 outlined a historic boost for REAP – the Rural Energy for America Program – at $2 billion over ten years ($1.965 billion, to be exact). If passed, this would be a big deal for rural America with strong public / private investments for clean energy infrastructure – which also means jobs. And it would be a historical boost to our nation’s climate change defenses in rural areas.

Together, we face a climate crisis that has only begun to be felt and that threatens to grow larger and costlier in human, natural, and financial ways. With these and other non-energy provisions, Build Back Better would accelerate a transition to clean energy that includes our rural neighbors. But it must be passed.

What’s in the New REAP Fund

The new REAP Fund would have a 10-year life, until 2031. It would be seeded with strong funding in the early years, which increases certainty and stability for private sector participants – from installers, suppliers to end customers – who can have greater confidence in the program’s future.

BBB would create a set-aside for “underutilized renewable energy technologies,” a term yet to be defined by the USDA. This provision addresses longstanding concerns that REAP funding can become concentrated among just a couple technologies, while leaving other renewable energy resources untapped. This set-aside will accelerate the development and deployment of a broader range of clean energy technologies that can be adapted to local resources.

The cost-share in REAP for awardees is reduced from 75% to 50%, which will accelerate adoption of clean energy technologies. These approaches include key elements of ELPC’s “REAP 3.0” vision for a strong and effective program.

Investment in Service

Importantly, this bill provides USDA much needed funding for staff. A challenge for REAP in the past has been having enough key staff to run the program. Staff are needed to implement the program, promote the opportunity to farmers, and responsibly administer the funds.

For all these initiatives to succeed, more staff is needed for outreach and assistance to farmers, businesses and rural communities so people can learn of, and access, the programs.

Clean Energy Repowering for Rural Utilities

Build Back Better would create a new rural energy program titled “Clean Energy Repowering for Rural Utilities” to help rural electric cooperatives to transition from fossil to renewable energy. It prioritizes “the greatest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions” and aiding disadvantaged communities. Co-ops often serve low-income communities and provide energy infrastructure.

The Rural Repowering provision provides grants and loans as incentives for investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. It can also be used to retire facilities with high greenhouse gas pollution and related transmission assets, removing modernizing energy infrastructure for our rural economies. It would be seeded with $9.7 billion in funding.

We already know REAP works, ELPC has been working on this program for years. It’s good for farmers, it’s good for the economy, and it’s good for our environment. We now need Congress to pass this proposal so we can put those dollars immediately to work in rural America.

Andy Olsen,

Senior Policy Advocate

Andy Olsen is a senior policy advocate at ELPC, leading the Farm Bill Clean Energy and Rural Solar programs.

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