Last week U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a long-anticipated round of funding, designed to spur economic development in rural areas while providing a much needed upgrade to dated electric transmission infrastructure.
A total of $376 million will be divided among 10 rural electric cooperatives and utilities in states such as Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico and South Dakota. The program, managed by the USDA Rural Development program, will benefit up to 20,000 rural homes and businesses.
This investment is important as many of our renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar, are most abundant in remote regions that aren’t well connected to the existing transmission network. Up to 300,000 MW of wind projects, enough to meet 20 percent of our annual electricity demand, are lying dormant due to inadequate transmission capacity.
To utilize the tremendous potential associated with the development of renewable energy, it’s critical we find a way to connect these projects to the existing grid network.
By explicitly requiring that these funds be used for building or expanding existing transmission lines, our rural communities are able to take a significant step forward in an effort to better develop the resources at our disposal.
Because the health of our rural communities depends on our ability to translate our clean energy resources into economic opportunity, providing entrepreneurs the tools necessary to develop the resources right in our back yard moves us one step closer to making our clean energy future a reality.
Hladik works as an Energy Policy Advocate with the Center for Rural Affairs, promoting and developing a clean energy policy that creates economic opportunity for our rural communities.