Funding made available through 2014 Farm Bill to support renewable energyWritten by Natasha Wheeler
USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Feb. 10 that funding will be available through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to support energy efficient improvements.
“This will focus on energy efficient upgrades for producers, farmers, ranchers and small business owners in rural areas,” stated Vilsack.
Renewable energy projects eligible for funding include energy from wind, solar, ocean, small hydropower, hydrogen, geothermal and renewable biomass, including anaerobic digesters.
“Funding helps to find and finance energy producing systems of a renewable variety,” he noted.
Energy efficient improvement projects include lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, fans, automated controls and insulation upgrades that reduce energy consumption.
“Developing renewable energy presents an enormous economic opportunity for America,” he added.
Resources have been made available through the 2014 Farm Bill, allowing USDA to offer grant and loan money for energy efficient projects.
“A total of $280 million will become available under the REAP program. $50 million of that will be in the form of grants, with $2 million set aside for audits,” he explained.
Grants will cover up to 25 percent of total project costs.
“Grants can be as low as $250,000 and can also be up to $500,000 for energy producing systems,” he added.
Loans for energy efficient upgrades can be up to $25 million and can be combined with awarded grants.
Vilsack continued, “Over the course of the last year or two, we have made some changes in the way in which we administer the REAP program to make it more user friendly.”
The REAP application window has been expanded, and USDA will now accept and review loan and grant applications year-round.
“The application is easier to understand, and with the farm bill passing, we now have more stable and secure funding in the REAP program,” he added.
Loans will be assessed and awarded on a rolling decision-making process.
“We will open up the grant application process now and hopefully have some decisions made in June about who the recipients of grants will be,” Vilsack explained.
Since 2009, USDA has been responsible for funding over 8,800 projects utilizing $545 million of grants and loans.
“Of those projects, 2,900 have been renewable energy systems that have helped to generate nearly 6 billion kilowatt-hours of renewable energy,” he said. “That is enough to take care of the energy needs of approximately 5.5 million homes on an annual basis.”
The REAP program was created in the 2002 Farm Bill and has been reauthorized in the 2014 Farm Bill because of its success.
“This is a continuation of our effort to roll out Farm Bill programs, a fairly aggressive effort of the last year to get programs up and going,” Vilsack commented.
USDA believes that energy efficient investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure empower rural America to help strengthen America’s economy.
“We are excited about making this announcement,” stated Vilsack.
Energy efficient projects help farmers, ranchers and small business owners save money on their energy bills and support America’s clean energy economy.
“While saving producers money and creating jobs, these investments reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut carbon pollution as well,” he announced.
Acknowledging projects that have already been completed with energy efficient funding, Vilsack stated, “We know that this approved $280 million will add significantly to the work that has already been done.”