Wind and Solar Investment to Match Total for Rural Highways, Roads, and Bridges

At its core, the clean energy transition will represent a major investment in American infrastructure. This investment will be at a historic scale and is likely to rival or exceed other major classes of infrastructure investment in rural America.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, in 2017 federal, state, and local governments spent a total of $441 billion on various categories of infrastructure. The largest category of infrastructure spending was

  • highways ($177 bn), followed by
  • water utilities ($114 bn), then
  • mass transit ($70 bn).

While rural America encompasses 97 percent of US land mass and 75 percent of bridges and roads, it is home to 20 percent of the population and 10 percent of GDP. Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but if we estimate that 50 percent of infrastructure money on average is spent in rural areas, then 2017 public spending would have been $90.4 billion for highways, $57 billion for water utilities, and $45 billion for mass transit. It’s likely that rural America is the target of more than 50 percent of some investment types (e.g., water resources) and significantly less than 50 percent of other infrastructure (e.g., mass transit).

In the 2035 Report’s 90% clean electricity by 2035 scenario, average annual investment in wind and solar between now and 2035 would be $82 billion per year. This is slightly less than public spending on highways in rural communities, and higher than public investment in other classes of rural infrastructure.

In addition to direct investment in wind and solar, the clean energy transition will drive significant investment in grid infrastructure and battery storage in rural communities.

Many organizations advocate for increased public investment in rural America, as a means to drive broader economic development and combat the economic stagnation impacting rural areas. The wind and solar industries are already driving investment toward states with large rural populations, and are poised to support dramatically expanded infrastructure investment. And while the vast majority of highway investment is public, coming from federal, state, and local governments, the vast majority of solar and wind investment will likely come from the private sector.