September 10, 2021 | By: Shepard Price | Manistee News – On Thursday, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the department is investing $464 million to build or improve renewable energy infrastructure and help rural communities, agricultural producers and businesses lower energy costs in 48 states, including Michigan and Puerto Rico.
“USDA continues to prioritize climate-smart infrastructure to help rural America build back better, stronger and more equitably than ever before,” Vilsack said in a statement. “We recognize that lowering energy costs for small businesses and agricultural producers helps to expand economic development and employment opportunities for people in America’s rural towns and communities. The investments we are announcing today demonstrate how the Biden-Harris Administration has put rural communities at the heart of climate action and climate-smart solutions.”
USDA is financing $129 million of these investments through the Rural Energy for America Program. This program provides funding to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements. These climate-smart investments will conserve and generate more than 379 million kilowatt-hours in rural America, which equates to enough electricity to power 35,677 homes per year.
USDA is financing $335 million of these investments through the Electric Loan Program. The loans will help build or improve 1,432 miles of line to strengthen reliability in rural areas. The loans include $102 million for investments in smart grid technology, which uses digital communications to detect and react to local changes in electricity usage.
“We’re making sure power lines are being strengthened,” Vilsack said in a press call on Thursday. “What we do is provide resources that enable electricity to rural areas, it may well be that lines need to be improved, some are being put underground to increase resilience and reliability. The idea is that it makes it possible to do the maintenance work that makes the system more reliable, improving over 1,400 miles of lines in those areas and states, where they’re being improved, it will benefit people through access to power.”
Michigan altogether will receive nine loans totaling $131,914 dollars. That includes one investment in Willow Creek Enterprises, LLC in Ashley, which will total $20,000. The investment will be used to help purchase and install a 63.18 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system to help an agricultural producer. The project will save $12,410 per year and will replace 83,738 kilowatt hours (77%) per year, enough energy to power seven homes.
Another investment is in Seeds & Spores Family Farm, LLC in Marquette, which will receive $13,666. The investment will be used to purchase and install a 24.96 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system. The project will save $4,143 per year and replace 31,579 kilowatt hours (93%) per year.
“This is an opportunity for us to get renewable energy going at a little less cost and it keeps the cost down for consumers, which is important,” Vilsack said. “People are very sensitive to the cost of power; we’re making sure it is less expensive.”
Under the Biden-Harris Administration, Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care and high-speed internet access in rural, tribal and high-poverty areas.
The department is announcing investments Thursday in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Wyoming and Puerto Rico.