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Three tribal communities will benefit from federal loan programs aimed at increasing renewable energy projects in rural and tribal communities throughout the country.  

The funds are part of two U.S. Department of Agriculture programs —  the Electric Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee and the Powering Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) — that issued $2.3 billion to support reliable, affordable clean energy projects, according to a USDA announcement.  

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So far, three tribal communities will be impacted by the awards and loans. The La Plata Electric Association in Colorado received $13.4 million in PACE loan funding, which will help save on energy costs through a new solar installation that, in turn, will share power with people living on the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute reservations. PACE funding is notable in that the USDA will forgive up to 60% of the loans for supported renewable energy projects, such as wind, solar, hydro power, or biomass initiatives. 

On the Navajo Nation reservation, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, through the NTUA Generation-Utah LLC, will receive a $76.5 million loan under the Electric Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee Program. That loan will support the construction of a 93.7 megawatt solar photovoltaic farm in the Red Mesa Chapter of the Navajo Nation, located in San Juan County, Utah. All told, the project will create 220 local construction jobs, provide permanent employment for two to three people, and power 36,000 rural households, according to a USDA project summary

“Rural electric cooperatives are the backbone of America’s power delivery, and the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to helping them create a path toward a cleaner, more sustainable future that lowers energy costs and creates jobs and lasting economic prosperity for people everywhere,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a USDA statement. “(This) announcement reinforces this commitment and delivers on President Biden’s promise to strengthen America’s energy security by investing to deploy renewable energy technology and upgrade thousands of miles of transmission line across the nation."

The application for PACE loans closed last September, though the USDA anticipates announcing further awards from the $1 billion program in the coming months, per a statement. 

Applications for the Electric Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee Program — intended to supply capital to nonprofits, tribal governments, and cooperatives having trouble accessing traditional investment or credit — remain open

Tribal involvement in Rural Development’s loan programs is a step forward following concerns regarding underutilization of said programs in 2023. Prior Tribal Business News reporting around the PACE program’s initial funding opportunity pointed to tribal hesitation to take federal loans. 

“Tribes are uncomfortable with being in debt to the U.S. government, as it has historically come with big strings attached, and, quite frankly, lies, deceit, and manipulation,” Alliance for Tribal Clean Energy President and CEO Cheri Smith said in that story. “It's hard for tribes to move past the history of having their energy resources exploited for the benefit of everyone but Native people.”