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Housing advocates fear rural low-income folks who live in aging USDA housing could be forced out, small towns are eligible for grants to enhance civic participation, and North Carolina's small and Black-owned farms are helped by new wind and solar revenues.

Rural electric co-ops in Kentucky poised to receive federal funds

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Thursday, January 25, 2024   

Rural electric co-ops in Kentucky have submitted more than 60 proposed projects to a federal grant program called Empowering Rural America, which is aimed at helping rural communities transition to clean and affordable energy.

Under the Inflation Reduction Act, the program will funnel nearly $10 billion toward projects that help rural communities shift to clean and renewable energy.

Chris Woolery, energy projects coordinator with the Mountain Association, said the state's more than two dozen co-ops are focused on projects that reduce carbon emissions and energy costs for consumers.

"I think you're going to see proposals that are solar, distributed solar, or utility-scale solar with a little bit of battery storage mixed in," said Woolery. "Because of the way that the grants are set up, they're going to prioritize greenhouse reductions and affordability for end users. "

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has so far received hundreds of proposals nationwide for rural electric cooperative funding.

Woolery said at current funding levels, only a small portion of projects will receive cash, despite high demand.

According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, funding all of the projects would require at least twice the current funding amount.

Woolery explained that unlike investor-owned utilities, rural electric co-ops provide reliable electricity to their member-owners - who can vote on leadership and have a say in major operation decisions.

"They have similar or lower rates than investor-owned utilities," said Woolery. "But they'd been shut out in many ways from clean energy, because they weren't able to access tax credits."

One study found that across the country, cooperatives have been working to transition to clean energy - with the share of renewable energy increasing from 17% of generation in 2016 to 22% of generation in 2021.

Eastern Kentucky Power Cooperative says it has proposed a number of projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by adding renewable resources, integrating them into the grid and improving energy efficiency for consumers.



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