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'Power to People' film highlights 'New ERA' for rural electric co-ops

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Roz Brown

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(Texas News Service) A film debuts in Texas today to help member-owned utility customers learn more about opportunities coming their way from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. 

"Power to the People: The Story of Rural Electric Cooperatives" is a short, animated feature highlighting what could be transformative for many rural communities.

Philip Fracica, director of programs with Renew Missouri, says money from the "New ERA" clean-energy program will reduce costs for rural Americans while improving grid reliability. To be eligible, he notes applicants had to document how a community would benefit.

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"To get access to financing and forgivable funding for clean-energy projects. So, we're wanting to help them with that part of this process, to really help streamline it and make sure that community interests are being valued and considered," he said. 

Cooperatives are consumer-owned utilities that purchase electric power at wholesale and deliver it directly to the customer. As nonprofits, they often lack capital to add clean-energy resources to their grid such as wind and solar. 

The film, created by the Rural Power Coalition, debuts at the PowerXchange Conference in San Antonio.

Bri Knisley, director of public power campaigns with the environmental group Appalachian Voices, says more than 40 million people in 90 percent of U.S. counties are served by rural electric cooperatives.

"And they also provide electricity to some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country," Knisley said, "Low-income communities in Appalachia, Black and Brown communities in the Rust Belt, the border lands, tribal lands." 

The USDA said it received record demand for the New ERA funding, which it views as a generational opportunity using clean energy to cut consumer costs in low-income communities across the country. Currently, two-thirds of rural electricity comes from fossil fuels.