An annual federal investment of $55bn could create significant new economic opportunities in rural places in the US and tackle climate change at the same time, finds a World Resources Institute (WRI) study.

The $55bn package would include $19.6bn for electricity transmission, distribution and storage, $18.8bn for renewable energy, $8.3bn for energy efficiency, $2.4bn for environmental remediation of abandoned fossil fuel infrastructure, $4.3bn for tree restoration on non-federal lands (and $445m for tree restoration on federal lands), and $1.5bn for wildfire risk management.

Stalks of corn are seen near the property of the ‘Clean Energy Barn’, which was built directly in the path of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline and is equipped with solar panels and a wind turbine, in 2014 in Polk, Nebraska, US. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Such an investment would add up to nearly 260,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs across rural communities that would last for at least five years, says the WRI. On a country level, the added value from such investments could total $72bn annually, or $1.31 per dollar spent.

The effects on economic development could be even higher, with less conservative assumptions on economic impacts from private sector investment, suggest the authors. They identify robust federal clean energy spending as a catalyst for change in the rural US.

Data shows that most of the employment growth in energy in rural counties nationwide has come from renewable energy. Between 2017 and 2019, renewables added roughly 10,000 new jobs in the rural US.