US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $68 million in funding Thursday for 540 US renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in the nation’s rural communities. This legislation is part of the “Swiss Army knife” of tools for jobs, innovation, infrastructure, research, and conservation President Obama has been talking about. Of these projects, almost half are solar investments.
The funding comes from the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) of the 2008 Farm Bill, finally reauthorized this year to help strengthen the country’s energy sector under the “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. To date, REAP has supported more than 8,800 US renewable and energy efficiency projects nationwide. The program is part of an administration initiative to increase the use of solar power. It includes loan guarantees and grants for solar energy and will support many national goals: create jobs, promote energy independence, and advance the use of renewable fuels. $5.2 million will go to grants and $55.3 million, to loans.
Vilsack explains the plan:
These loan guarantees and grants will have far-reaching impacts nationwide, particularly in the rural communities where these projects are located. Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency will continue the unprecedented increase in home-grown energy sources and American energy independence we’ve seen in recent years.
The government expects measurable results across the country from the 540 US renewable projects: reduction in US energy consumption, cuts in existing carbon pollution by nearly 300 million metric tons (equal to taking more than 60 million cars off the road for a year), and saving businesses nearly $45 billion on energy bills. President Obama also announced a few other important developments this week:
- A coalition of 50 public and private sector partners, including leading industries, community development organizations, and housing providers in 28 states, has committed to deploy on-site solar energy and improve energy efficiency by deploying 35 MW of solar.
- DOE is launching a “Solar Powering America” website portal. It will compile a wide range of federal resources to drive solar deployment and will also highlight and track private-sector commitments for distributed solar. The DOE is also updating its Guide to Federal Financing for Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Deployment, which features all federal financing programs for energy-efficiency and clean energy projects.
- DOE is starting up its Solar Instructor Training Network, a veterans’ job training pilot project at several military bases, to connect veterans with a network of solar training programs at more than 400 community colleges.
- The Solar Foundation is releasing a DOE-funded report with SEIA on how US schools are choosing solar to lower their energy costs and carbon footprints.
- The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and DOE have released three new studies showing that the cost of solar energy continues to fall across all sectors:
- The second edition of the Utility Scale Solar report,
- Tracking the Sun, an annual PV cost tracking report produced by Berkeley Lab, and
- How Much Do Local Regulations Matter?
- Good news from one of these reports: a decline of more than 12% in the installed price of commercial and residential solar in 2013 (see chart below).
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Planning and Development office has affirmed that Section 108 funding can be used for clean energy and energy efficiency projects under current guidelines. HUD is creating a renewable energy toolkit for use by CPD grantees. It’s expected early in 2015.