Empowering Rural America (New ERA) Program: Opportunities for Rural Energy Cooperatives

Empowering Rural America (New ERA) Program: Opportunities for Rural Energy Cooperatives

The Empowering Rural America New ERA (New ERA) program is a significant initiative driven by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) legislation in the United States. This program, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), aims to provide access to reliable and affordable electrical services to rural communities. Here is a summary of key aspects of the program:

Program Objective:

The main purpose of New ERA is to enhance electrical infrastructure in rural areas, providing access to reliable and affordable electrical services. Additionally, the program seeks to promote energy efficiency and encourage the use of renewable energies in these communities.


The program is exclusively intended for rural electric cooperatives. This includes those that have been borrowers of the USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and those that are borrowers from the now-defunct Rural Electrification Administration. Rural electric cooperatives predominantly serving rural areas and subsidiaries wholly or partially owned by these cooperatives are also eligible.

Applicant Categories:

To ensure opportunities for cooperatives of various sizes, applicants are divided into three categories based on the total project value: Category 1 ($500 million or more), Category 2 ($200 million to less than $500 million), and Category 3 (equal to or less than $200 million).

Use of Funds:

Program funds can be used to improve energy efficiency, acquire renewable energy, zero-emission systems, and carbon capture storage systems. The focus is flexible, allowing cooperatives to seek financing for technologies that reduce greenhouse gases without requiring specific technologies.

Grants and Loans:

The program offers both grants and loans, and it even allows a combination of both. Applicants seeking only grants can receive up to 25% of the total project cost, while applicants seeking only loans can obtain attractive interest rates.

Limits and Conditions:

There are limits to ensure equitable distribution of funds, and no borrower or beneficiary can receive more than 10% of the available funds, amounting to $970 million out of the $9.7 billion in the program. Additionally, refinancing of debts related to unused assets is allowed.

In summary, the New ERA program represents a significant opportunity for rural electric cooperatives in the United States, offering financing to improve and expand electrical infrastructure, promote energy efficiency, and move towards cleaner energy sources. Interested cooperatives can obtain more information by contacting the USDA office in their region.