On April 11, 2019, Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced the Expanding Access to Sustainable Energy Act of 2019, which would establish an energy storage and microgrid grant and technical assistance program for rural electric cooperatives. The bipartisan bill was co-sponsored by Senators Moran (R-KS), King (I-ME) and Gardner (R-CO).
Rural electric cooperatives are non-profit consumer-owned electric cooperatives that came into being in the 1930s and 1940s to serve the needs of rural areas otherwise ignored by investor-owned (for-profit) utilities. Most rural electric power is still provided by rural electric co-ops.
Senator Klobuchar's bill would direct the Secretary of Energy to establish a program to provide grants, technical assistance and disseminate information to rural electric co-ops for identifying, evaluating and designing energy storage and microgrid projects that rely on energy from renewable energy sources. The bill does not provide funding, however, for the actual construction and implementation of the projects.
Senator Klobuchar's office notes that "some of the most significant barriers to exploration and establishment of new renewable energy projects like storage in rural communities is navigating the planning, implementation, and maintenance of these projects. Some of these major barriers to development of new rural projects can be reduced by providing communities and rural electricity cooperatives with access to relevant resources and expertise."
This bill is meant to help rural co-operatives past that barrier. To do so, it authorizes the appropriation of $5 million a year to fund the program for each year from 2020-2025.