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Feds beef up hiring to help rural America with clean energy grants

Federal grant money is flowing in to help farmers and smaller businesses in rural communities adapt to clean energy technology.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is hiring 40 Climate Change Fellows to assist with applications for wind, solar and similar projects under the Rural Energy for America Program.

Through the Inflation Reduction Act, the program was provided with $2 billion to spur more interest in farming communities.

Clare Sierawski, senior rural energy counselor for the USDA, said they are intended to be smaller-scale installations.

"Putting solar panels on your barn, or one or two small-scale wind turbines, things like that," Sierawski outlined. "It's really these small-scale systems that you can use yourself."

She pointed out individual projects can complement utility-scale renewable energy development taking shape across the country. The agency said while it is tried to streamline the application process, the added staff can help with strong demand from many who might not be as familiar with the steps. Minnesota is one of a handful of states getting multiple fellows to help out.

Sierawski add the timing of the grants is crucial in propping up rural economies.

"Times can be tough for our rural small businesses and farmers," Sierawski noted. "This program is great because it can actually help them reduce their costs, and it might make the difference between hard decisions and being able to actually make a profit in a year."

While wind and solar projects might be taking off in parts of the Midwest, they sometimes face heavy opposition at the local level. Sierawski emphasized policymakers have to be smart about how they are working on the efforts, adding strong engagement with the public is key.

Mike Moen is the Morning Edition producer and serves as a staff reporter for WNIJ. Every morning, he works with Dan Klefstad to bring listeners the latest Illinois news. He also works with the rest of the news staff on developing and producing in-depth stories. Mike is a Minnesota native who likes movies, history, and baseball. When most people hear his last name, they assume he is 100-percent Scandinavian. But, believe it or not, he is mostly German.
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