The Department of Agriculture is trying to help rural communities reduce energy use and impacts to climate by investing $464 million to enhance renewable energy infrastructure, officials said Thursday.

Some $129 million in funding is dedicated to the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which offers loans and grants to upgrade or make improvements to energy systems. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the REAP money represents 12 loans totaling $121.2 million and 411 grants totaling just over $7.4 million. 

Another $335 million in loans is being made through the Electric Loan Program (ELP), which “provides leadership and capital to maintain, expand, upgrade, and modernize America's vast rural electric infrastructure,” according to USDA. “These projects will help to improve the efficiency of ... almost 1,500 miles of electric lines which will increase their reliability and provide for a more resilient system,” Vilsack noted. 

About $120 million of the $335 million will go to monitoring local usage of electricity.

“The combination of these renewable energy projects and energy efficiency projects will essentially save the equivalent of 379 million kilowatt hours of electricity,” Vilsack said during a press call. He noted those savings are enough to take care of the electricity needs of over 35,000 homes.

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Several companies and businesses across the country are taking advantage of the funding.

For example, Vilsack said North Dakota's Red Trail Energy is using its $25 million REAP loan to expand carbon capture and storage infrastructure connected to its ethanol plant. He said it should “result in somewhere between a 40-50% reduction of the carbon intensity of ethanol production.” Illinois solar company Prairie State Solar received a $95 million loan through the ELP to build a 99-megawatt solar farm to help an electric transmission company send power to customers in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. 

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