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Biden administration moves to protect Alaska wilderness; opening statements and first witness in NY trial; SCOTUS hears Starbucks case, with implications for unions on the line; rural North Carolina town gets pathway to home ownership.

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The Supreme Court weighs cities ability to manage a growing homelessness crisis, anti-Israeli protests spread to college campuses nationwide, and more states consider legislation to ban firearms at voting sites and ballot drop boxes.

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Wyoming needs more educators who can teach kids trade skills, a proposal to open 40-thousand acres of an Ohio forest to fracking has environmental advocates alarmed and rural communities lure bicyclists with state-of-the-art bike trail systems.

Feds beef up hiring to help rural America with clean energy grants

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Monday, January 8, 2024   

Federal grant money is flowing in to help farmers and smaller businesses in rural communities adapt to clean energy technology.

Minnesota is among the states getting extra staff to help individuals tap into those resources. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is hiring 40 Climate Change Fellows to assist with applications for wind, solar and similar projects under the Rural Energy for America Program.

Through the Inflation Reduction Act, the program was provided with $2 billion to spur more interest in farming communities.

Clare Sierawski, senior rural energy counselor for the USDA, said they are intended to be smaller-scale installations.

"Putting solar panels on your barn, or one or two small-scale wind turbines, things like that," Sierawski outlined. "It's really these small-scale systems that you can use yourself."

She pointed out individual projects can complement utility-scale renewable energy development taking shape across the country. The agency said while it is tried to streamline the application process, the added staff can help with strong demand from many who might not be as familiar with the steps. Minnesota is one of a handful of states getting multiple fellows to help out.

Sierawski add the timing of the grants is crucial in propping up rural economies.

"Times can be tough for our rural small businesses and farmers," Sierawski noted. "This program is great because it can actually help them reduce their costs, and it might make the difference between hard decisions and being able to actually make a profit in a year."

While wind and solar projects might be taking off in parts of the Midwest, they sometimes face heavy opposition at the local level. Sierawski emphasized policymakers have to be smart about how they are working on the efforts, adding strong engagement with the public is key.


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