Great River Energy is marshaling an effort by Minnesota's electricity co-ops to snare up to $970 million in federal money for clean energy investments.
The money would come from $9.7 billion approved by Congress last year for nonprofit co-ops, which will be doled out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The department's New Empowering Rural America (ERA) program will provide grants and low-interest loans.
Maple Grove-based Great River Energy, a wholesale electricity cooperative, has formed a consortium with the majority of its 27 retail co-op members and is working on an application to the USDA.
"It's going to be competitive, and that's why we formed this consortium — to get members ideas," said Jamie Stallman, Great River's energy conservation and optimization specialist. "We are doing our due diligence and analysis and our members are doing the same."
Great River generates electricity for about 700,000 customers, mostly in Minnesota. That power is distributed through retail electric co-ops, which are mostly in rural areas, though some serve the Twin Cities' suburbs and exurbs.
Great River declined to spell out projects that will be part of its application.
"Everyone wants to keep their cards a little close to the vest on specific projects," Stallman said.
The USDA's New ERA program will fund an array of power projects, including solar, wind, transmission, batteries and carbon capture.
Co-ops must send a short letter of intent to the USDA by Sept. 15, Stallman said. Great River will submit a full plan if the USDA accepts its initial letter. "We are very much under the impression we will get the nod for the full application," Stallman said.
The USDA money would help cooperatives meet a Minnesota law passed earlier this year that requires electricity suppliers to provide 100 % clean energy by 2040.
"This is [a] way for Great River and our member-owners to really leverage this generational financing opportunity to meet those overarching state goals at a lower cost than we would normally incur," said Jeff Haase, Great River's director of member services and distributed energy resources.
The $9.7 billion USDA New ERA program is funded by the 2022 federal clean energy law dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes a trove $369 billion in subsidies over 10 years.
The New ERA program represents the single largest investment in rural electrification since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act into law in 1936, according to the USDA.
Co-ops were the conduit for the 1930s federal program that brought electricity to the countryside, which private investors had shunned due to its low profit potential.
Great River Energy is also applying to the U.S. Department of Energy for $94 million, mostly to help fund transmission projects.