For the first time, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will use its Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation grant programs to fund net-zero energy projects.
The funding expansions were recently announced by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
Solar microgrids, heat pumps, high-performance appliances, and passive heating and cooling systems are among the types of projects that now qualify for grant money from the programs.
Like the Department of Energy, FEMA has concluded that funding net-zero projects will improve resilience, cut energy costs and reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to the climate crisis.
The Department of Energy recently funded a solar microgrid in storm-prone LaPlace, Louisiana, one of several solar plus storage resilience hubs constructed in recent years by Together Louisiana, a grassroots organization that assists vulnerable communities with flood recovery.
“As the increase of extreme weather hazards become more severe due to climate change, we need to adapt the way we are helping communities rebuild post-disaster,” said Criswell in a statement. “Thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda and the Inflation Reduction Act, FEMA will now cover the costs of net-zero energy projects since they are the single most effective measure FEMA can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the climate crisis.”
Building back better – and more resilient
FEMA’s Public Assistance Program provides grants to state, tribal, territorial and local governments as well as to qualified nonprofits to aid with the rebuilding of schools, hospitals, fire stations and other parts of a community’s infrastructure that have been impacted by a disaster.
The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds rebuilding efforts that will specifically reduce future disaster losses in a community.
Grants for both programs become available to communities in the wake of a presidential disaster declaration.
In 2023, FEMA spent more than $10 billion on hazard mitigation projects and rebuilding communities after disasters.
“Now that work will include incorporating smart, net-zero energy techniques and technology -- like solar panels and heat pumps -- into the rebuilding of critical infrastructure like hospitals and fire stations,” said Mayorkas.
FEMA already funding solar microgrids in Puerto Rico
While this is the first time FEMA Public Assistance grant funds have been made available for net-zero projects, this isn’t the agency’s first foray into renewables-based energy projects.
FEMA recently approved more than $10.2 million to kick-start two significant solar projects in Puerto Rico. This U.S. territory has been repeatedly pummeled in recent years by major hurricanes, including Maria in 2017, which devastated the country’s electric grid.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority will use funds for preconstruction activities on the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, which are east of the main island. Vieques will get a 12.5-MW solar powered microgrid, while Culebra will receive a 3-MW system.
“After a disaster, communities don’t just want to build back. They want infrastructure that will last and will serve them better in a future that promises more extreme weather events fueled by the climate crisis,” said John Podesta, senior adviser to the president for clean energy innovation and implementation, in a public release statement.