Powering progress, building the future

Posted: April 1, 2023 at 7:57 am

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently opened the application window for a new infrastructure program focused on improving energy systems in rural communities. Energy Improvements in Rural or Remote Areas (ERA) program grants are designed to improve the cost, reliability and resilience of energy systems in rural communities with 10,000 or fewer residents.

According to the 2021 American Community Survey, more than 750 Oklahoma communities fall within this definition of rural. As Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives serve parts of all 77 counties in the state, many projects could be eligible for funding under the ERA program, including those focused on:

  • Power generation
  • Transmission and distribution upgrades
  • Demand response
  • Energy efficiency
  • System upgrades to accommodate accelerated electric vehicle deployments

The ERA is a $1 billion program in DOE’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED), with $300 million available in this first funding opportunity. Project size will depend on, among other factors, electric load, demand and state of the local grid. For example, a project scoped to serve a small rural or remote area might be relatively small, however, a distribution co-op could use funding to produce multiple projects across its territory or work in partnership with other distribution co-ops or generation and transmission co-ops to aggregate into one larger deployment.

Co-ops have the knowledge and expertise to support robust planning and implementation of projects that will ensure federal dollars are spent efficiently, infrastructure is appropriately sized to account for current and planned energy needs and reliability of the electric grid is maintained.

The ERA grant program requires a 20% applicant cost share. A National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (NRECA) consortium is currently organizing a joint funding application for all interested electric co-ops.

Not-for-profit electric co-ops can take advantage of this funding to implement projects that might otherwise be cost prohibitive. This program ensures rural communities have the opportunity to benefit from federal investments in energy solutions.

Electric co-ops have always been dedicated to improving the quality of life in the communities they serve. We look forward to partnering with the DOE on this beneficial initiative.

By Chris Meyers

General Manager | Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives