Rural Energy for America Program
The Rural Energy for America Program provides grants and loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small businesses. Cooperatives qualify for grants up to 25% of total system cost as rural small businesses and many have used the program. The program involves a competitive grant process at the state and national level. Grants of up to $500,000 can be used for cooperative owned projects, either community or utility solar. One grant can also be used for multiple projects are different locations.
In addition, the Energy Audit / Renewable Energy Development Program (EA/REDA) provides grants of up to $100,000 to cooperatives and other institutions to deliver services. The REDA portion of the program can be used for solar development assistance such as site visits and assessments, system sizing recommendations, group buys and so forth.
In both cases interested parties should contact their USDA state energy coordinator to begin the application process.
Rural Utilities Service
Many cooperatives are familiar with the Rural Utilities Service (RUS). RUS administers a number of programs that can help co-ops implement solar energy along with transmission and distribution systems. The RUS electric program provides low cost financing that can be used directly by the cooperative or by project developers. The electric program has evolved over time to include distributed generation and renewable energy, as well as distribution and transmission lines.
New Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (NCREBS)
Because rural electric cooperatives are tax-exempt, they cannot directly use tax incentives. This requires development strategies, such as power purchase agreements or tax-equity flip financing, to channel most of the incentives to the cooperative. The result is that cooperatives do not own the generation assets or build asset value.
The new clean renewable energy bonds (NCREBs) can be used by tax-exempt or public entities to finance renewable energy projects. Because the bond purchaser receives a tax subsidy in lieu of interest, NCREBs reduce borrowing costs for the co-op. A special allocation has been made for rural electric cooperatives and there are still funds available, on a first-come, first-served basis. The program is administered by the Internal Revenue Service and their program guidance can be found here. The National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) has been organizing NCREBS applications for cooperatives developing solar projects. You can learn more from this field manual (PDF) from NRECA and the US Department of Energy.
Some states provide incentives that can be used by cooperatives which vary by state. The DSIRE web site provides a helpful clearinghouse of information on state incentives.
Reports and Tools
A site rich with resources of varying complexity. In their own words, “a national effort to support solar energy adoption by making solar energy affordable for all Americans through research and development efforts in collaboration with public and private partners. SunShot funds cooperative research, development, demonstration, and deployment projects by private companies, universities, state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and national laboratories to drive down the cost of solar electricity.”
One of the country’s most dynamic solar advocacy groups. In their own words, “working to make solar affordable and accessible to more Americans. We work at the state level all across the country to support the policies and programs needed to repower our grid with clean energy.”
Key solar resources:
- Shared Renewables HQ – Tools and guides for effective shared solar program design and promotion.
- Guiding Principles: Distributed Solar Generation Policy & Rate Design
- Policies & Programs – Innovative approaches to policies that support all solar development options.
- Net Metering & Rates – News on net metering battles and regulatory filings. A good source for new “can do” principles for solar and distributed generation.
SEIA provides a wide range of reports, news and tools for solar energy.
- Shared Renewables/Community Solar – News and resources.
- Guide to Land Leases for Solar – A guide to assist land owners in understanding opportunities and implications of leasing their property for solar installations.
The Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) provides a helpful library of reports, webinars and training tools for cooperatives developing solar power. They have a number of subsections. This listing is not an endorsement of all of the content.
- NRECA Solar Site – A very interactive site with maps of operational projects and more.
- – The NRECA perspective on rate-setting and distributed generation.
SEPA (formerly the Solar Electric Power Association) provides rich resources for learning in-depth about solar, storage and other technologies. The site includes webinars and training materials. Some require membership.