Incentive Programs

Pinehold Gardens solar, Wisconsin

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 at 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.

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.


Gunnison County Electric Association Energy Audits

New Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (NCREBS)

Since 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 was 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) organizes NCREBS applications for cooperatives developing solar projects. You can learn more from this field manual (PDF) from NRECA and the US Department of Energy.

State Incentives

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

Environmental Law and Policy Center

Sunshot Initiative from US Department of Energy

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:

Solar Energy Industries Association

SEIA provides a wide range of reports, news and tools for solar energy.

NRECA Renewables & Distributed Generation (RE/DG) Library

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.

Smart Electric Power Association

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.

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