USDA to release funds for energy improvements
Casper – Although national funding has not yet been released from USDA Rural Development, Jon Crabtree with USDA Rural Development in Wyoming recommends Wyoming farm, ranch and small business owners begin to apply for renewable energy and energy efficiency grant money.
“We know the money’s coming, and we have lots of money this year,” says Crabtree of the program. “Wyoming has a state-specific grant allocation of $344,000 in an energy grant for renewable energy or energy efficiency.”
He notes renewable energy generates new electrons, such as solar, wind, geothermal or hydroelectric generation, while energy efficiency is making an operation run on less energy, like replacing lights, insulation or windows.
“The USDA grant will reimburse up to 25 percent on renewable energy projects up to $500,000,” he says. “The total project cost could be $2 million, and the grant would reimburse $500,000.”
On energy efficiency projects USDA will cover 25 percent up to $250,000.
“A guaranteed loan is also part of the program, where the applicant goes to the bank of their choice and we cosign up to 50 percent of the project,” says Crabtree, adding the guaranteed loan has a maximum limit of $25 million. “The loan guarantee plus the $500,000 maximum grant could cash flow 75 percent of the project.”
Crabtree says the funding targets farms, ranches and rural small businesses. He says any business in Wyoming not located in Cheyenne is currently considered “rural,” although that may change when the 2010 census information is compiled. He also says he’s unaware of any Wyoming business that’s not considered a “small business,” save for companies like the railroad and those in the energy industry.
“Although $344,000 is the Wyoming allocation, that’s not all the money we have access to,” says Crabtree. “That’s just what we’re supposed to spend in Wyoming. There’s $60 million in the program nationwide. If we get a lot of applications our big allocation will go to the national level and will be funded out of Washington, D.C.”
The Wyoming-specific money has to be allocated in 2010. Following the “Notice of Funding Announcement” the money will be released and a final due date set for applications.
“The sooner you get them in, the sooner we get them funded,” says Crabtree, recommending that Wyoming operations beat the rush.
He adds another advantage to applying for funding now is that no money can be spent on a project and nothing can be ordered for the project before an application is put together.
“By applying now, we can issue a letter saying we have the complete application and you’re free to start your project,” says Crabtree. “It’s not a guarantee you’ll get funded, but you can start on a project you might be planning to complete regardless of the USDA funding.”
Crabtree says the application is lengthy, at 40 pages long. “If an applicant wants to contact me I’ll give them a regulation number to Google that will give instructions as well as a list of grant writers to contact for assistance,” he says. “They’re also welcome to call me as many times as they want.”
He recommends using all resources available to complete the best application possible.
“We’re trying to make the application process as simple as we can, because we’ve got a lot of money to push out the door,” adds Crabtree. “This is the year to apply, because the funds are there.”
Last year Wyoming was given a mere $55,000 to allocate within the state.
“If a person is remotely thinking about a new project or improvements, my encouragement is to submit an application. It doesn’t hurt anything to submit one, then change your mind and not go ahead with it.”
If someone’s considering an update or new project, Crabtree encourages them to contact their electrical utility. “Most will provide an energy audit, which will tell them how much they’re using and where. If they’re thinking of replacing windows, a furnace or lights, do it all in one shot,” he recommends.
The catch is that the funds can only be used for commercial projects, not residential. Therefore, if a renewable energy system is put in place on a ranch or farm, it cannot provide energy to the house.
Crabtree says he had hoped to work with a similar but opposite state program that would only allow residential projects. That funding, however, was spoken for within 10 days of its release.
One farm-related question is whether the grant would cover running power lines to a center pivot if it is converted from diesel-powered to a new high-efficiency electric motor. Crabtree says it would, since it’s a necessary part of converting the pivot from diesel to electric.
For more information on the project Crabtree recommends people visit the USDA Rural Development site for Oregon, which has information on the program and also an application template.