Innovation and sustainable futures in America’s rural landscapes
In the pursuit of a greener future, it is imperative that no communities are left behind. It’s with this ethos that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED) has launched the Energizing Rural Communities Prize. This innovative initiative seeks to help rural and remote communities, home to nearly 50 million Americans, overcome the barriers of limited access to partnerships and funding.
The Energizing Rural Communities Prize forms an essential part of the larger $1 billion Energy Improvements in Rural or Remote Areas (ERA) Program, established under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The ERA Program, serving areas with populations not exceeding 10,000 individuals, explores novel ways to enhance the resilience, reliability, safety, availability, and environmental performance of energy systems. It brings hope to many Americans living in areas where energy costs are typically disproportionately high, and service reliability is a constant concern.
The Energizing Rural Communities Prize competition is structured in two distinct tracks, each containing two phases.
The Partner Track invites applicants to formulate strategies to build or enhance partnerships. These collaborations aim to connect rural or remote communities to government funding, technical assistance, and a supportive ecosystem, enabling the execution of clean energy demonstration projects.
The Finance Track encourages applicants to develop innovative business models and community ownership models. These strategies are intended to finance clean energy demonstration projects in rural or remote areas.
The competition, open to a wide array of individuals and organizations such as entrepreneurs, university faculty and student groups, community organizations, tribal and local governments, financial institutions, and industry professionals, has seen enthusiastic participation.
In July 2023, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced 67 winners for Phase One of the Energizing Rural Communities Prize. These victorious teams, each awarded a cash prize of $100,000, are now eligible to participate in Phase Two of the competition. The variety of the winning teams underlines the vast potential of diverse perspectives in tackling energy challenges and underscores the importance of broad-based involvement in the energy transition.
Finance track winners
The winners of the Finance Track hail from a wide range of locations and bring unique perspectives and solutions to the table.
|CDC-PHP Empowerment Coalition||Pembroke, IL|
|Collective Energy, Community Health Center Capital Fund, and Chiricahua Community Health Center Microgrid Lending and Development Project||Willcox, AZ|
|Funding Sicangu Energy||Rosebud, SD|
|Garfield Clean Energy Collaborative||Parachute, CO|
|GRID Alternatives, Energy Resilience Fund||Wellpinit, WA|
|Making Mr. CEF’S (Minnesota Rural Clean Energy Finance) Capital Stack Burger||Motley, MN|
|Native CDFI Network||White Cloud, KS|
|Nevada Clean Energy Fund||Town of Battle Mountain, NV|
|Project Greenlight||Lakeview, OR|
|SolarShare WI Cooperative||Town of Lemonweir, WI|
|Triple Bottom Line Foundation (TBL Fund)||Acoma, NM|
Partner Track Winners
The Partner Track winners also showcase a diverse array of teams and solutions.
|Advancing Tribal Energy Sovereignty – Spark Northwest||Kingston, WA|
|AgWind Qualifiers||Sinton, TX|
|Alaska Municipal League||Toksook Bay, AK|
|Beaver Island Smart Energy Team||Beaver Island, MI|
|Big Bend Community Development Team||Quincy, FL|
|CEBE Cooperative Solar||Norway, ME|
|CERTs & WETCC||Mahnomen, MN|
|Clean Energy Bounty Seekers||Owyhee, NV|
|Clean Energy NH||Whitefield, NH|
|Clean Energy Solutions Group||Monticello, FL|
|Coal to Solar in Carrier Mills||Village of Carrier Mills, IL|
|Cuyama Energy Team||New Cuyama, CA|
|Energizing Dinétah||Pinon, AZ|
|Energy Conservation Works||Afton, WY|
|Farmers Conservation Energy and Resiliency Team||Towaoc, CO|
|Georgette Jean Enterprises, LLC||Idlewild, MI|
|Illu Global Inc and Waldron Power & Light||Waldron Island, WA|
|Intertribal Community-Owned Solar Program Team||Pleasant Point, ME|
|Island Institute||Eastport, ME|
|Islesboro Energy Committee||Islesboro, ME|
|Kitchi-Gami Sisu||Alger County, MI|
|Lafayette County Arkansas Rural Energy Project||Bradley City, AR|
|Little Bob Technologies||Lowndesboro, AL|
|Midi Enterprises-Bloom Energy Corp Partnership||New Town, ND|
|Navajo Nation Solar Initiative Team||Shonto, AZ|
|NRECA’s Partnerships Delivering Defined Mutual Goals (PADEDMUG)||Sumterville, FL|
|PowerUP Philadelphia, MS Clean Energy Solar Project & Workshops||City of Philadelphia, MS|
|Pueblo of San Ildefonso Solar Energy Team||San Ildefonso Pueblo, NM|
|RED HOT||China Spring, TX|
|Region Nine Development Commission||St. James, MN|
|Regional Climate Solutions Team||Basalt, CO|
|RISE Project: Rural Innovation through Solar Empowerment||Aliquippa, PA|
|Rural Action||Glouster, OH|
|SAGE Development Authority||Fort Yates, ND|
|Shake Energy Collaborative||Hoʻolehua, HI|
|Silverton GOLD Team||Town of Silverton, CO|
|Smart Grid||Magnolia, MN|
|Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia||Norton, VA|
|Solar4Us @ Mountain Maryland||Allegany County, MD|
|Son Solar Mississippi||Mendenhall, MS|
|Steering South Texas Toward Solar Success||Los Fresnos, TX|
|Strong, Arkansas Team||Strong, AR|
|SUN Rural Solar Projects & Workforce Development||Georgetown, SC|
|Sustainable Grand County||Granby, CO|
|Team Climate-Resilient Gerlach||Gerlach, NV|
|Team SEGA||Galena, AK|
|Team SPUR: Sustaining Productive Utilization of Resources||Kemmerer, WY|
|The Morris Model Partnership (morrismodel.org)||Morris, MN|
|The National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO)||Blue Mountain, MS|
|Turtle Mountain Community Renewable Energy Partners||Belcourt, ND|
|Vieques Energy Partnership||Vieques, PR|
|Village of Dowell & City of Carbondale, IL Collaboration||Village of Dowell, IL|
|Wallowa Resources||Wallowa County, OR|
|Yellow Springs Development Corporation||Yellow Springs, OH|
The full list of winners and more information about each team’s contributions to the Energizing Rural Communities Prize can be found at herox.com/rural-energy/.
Empowering the future: energizing rural communities
As the sun sets on the era of traditional energy sources, initiatives like the Energizing Rural Communities Prize herald a promising dawn. The winning teams of this competition, drawn from the breadth and depth of the country, bring not just innovation, but also hope, to the remote corners of our nation. By championing clean energy, fostering partnerships, and funding solutions, these pioneers are sowing the seeds for a future where sustainable energy systems are not a luxury but a given. They ensure that no community is too remote to be part of the greener tomorrow.
This change won’t happen overnight. Real transformation is a product of patience, perseverance, and the pooling of collective wisdom. The efforts of the prize winners today are investments in the generations of tomorrow, safeguarding their right to reliable, clean energy. As these initiatives continue to gain momentum, they will not just shape the future of rural America, but influence the global discourse on clean energy and sustainable living.
The Energizing Rural Communities Prize winners prove that we don’t have to choose between progress and preservation. With vision and collaboration, we can carve a path that respects our roots while reaching for a cleaner, brighter future.