Farm Progress

$6.6 Million awarded to four projects through Rural Energy Pilot Program grants.

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

April 11, 2023

2 Min Read
Solar panels with power lines in background
Getty Images/Steve Proehl

The USDA announced it has awarded $6.6 million in Rural Energy Pilot Program grants to help rural communities develop renewable energy projects. This is the second round of grants allocated through the REPP, which was authorized by the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

“People from rural areas make up America’s spirit and character and provide the everyday essentials our country depends on, and the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to ensuring they have every opportunity to succeed in their communities,” USDA Undersecretary Xochitl Torres Small says. “The investments we're announcing today demonstrate how the Biden-Harris Administration is partnering with rural communities to champion the people living here and improve the quality of life for rural families and build the economy from the bottom up and the middle out."

The REPP is a federal program created to develop renewable energy while combatting climate change and prioritizing marginalized and at-risk communities. The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma is one of three entities to receive a $2 million grant. It will use its funds to install a community-scale solar garden, geothermal system, battery storage, and electric vehicle charging stations. The Pawnee Nation also plans to use the grant to deploy environmental sensors for weatherization planning and to provide renewable energy training and certification for tribal members.

Nonprofit Cooperative for a Better World received $2 million to install stand-alone solar power systems in up to 100 Northeast Arizona homes. Those homes are in an area formerly known as the Bennet Freeze area. Economic development there was effectively banned in 1966 by then Commissioner of Indian Affairs Robert Bennet. He issued the ban to mitigate a land dispute between the Hopi and Navajo tribes. However, the ban had the effect of stifling economic development for nearly 40 years until President Obama signed a 2009 bill introduced by Sen. John McCain to reverse it.

According to one estimate, the development ban left nearly 60% of homes in the remote area without electricity. Cooperative for a Better World will work with Navajo Power Home, a nonprofit solar service provider in the area, to bring electricity to more homes.

Alaska’s Northwest Arctic Borough will use its $2 million grant to install solar panels and a battery storage micro grid in the native village of Selawik, Alaska. Those projects are expected to provide energy savings and reduce climate change impacts.

The city of Nenana, Alaska received a $605,521 grant. It will be used to purchase a woodchipper with conveyors for the city’s biomass district. Over the past several years, Nenana has worked to combat its high employment rate by becoming a commercial center for wood milling. Wood that can not be sold becomes fuel for the community’s biomass boiler. Unlike traditional boilers, those fueled by wood are carbon neutral since carbon dioxide released during combustion was previously absorbed by the trees when they were growing.

Read more about:

Renewable Energy

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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