The ag sector is an important one for solar, so the announcement last week from the USDA that it is awarding loans and grants that will help more than 1,100 rural small businesses and agricultural producers reduce energy usage and costs in their operations is a welcome one. The funding is for energy efficiency improvements and/or renewable energy systems.
USDA is providing $102 million in loan guarantees and $71 million in grants for 1,114 projects financed through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Among the projects, nearly $6 million is being awarded for 17 anaerobic digesters in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington.
Some nice examples of this financing in action:
The owners of Parker Farms in Ripley, Tenn., are receiving a $45,000 REAP grant to help finance the installation of a 50 kW solar system that was installed late last year. The system has lowered the grain farm’s average monthly electric bill by $800 – from $1,140 to $340. That is a savings of nearly $10,000 a year. The solar system covers more than 70 percent of the farm’s annual electric costs. Parker Farms participates in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Green Power Providers program and sells 100 percent of its solar electricity to TVA at a premium.
Fresh Air Energy XVI, LLC is receiving a $3.8 million loan guarantee to finance a 6.5 megawatt solar array in Greene County, N.C. The project is expected to produce enough energy to power 1,000 average-sized homes for a year. This is one of several loans the company is receiving to expand the use of solar energy in the state.
In Pearl City, Hawaii, the owner of the wholesale bakery “The Patisserie, Inc.” is being awarded a $256,000 loan guarantee and a $128,000 grant to install a PV system. It is expected to generate 172,000 kilowatts of energy annually and reduce energy use by nearly 40 percent.
“More rural business owners and ag producers are incorporating energy-saving measures into their business plans,” Vilsack said. “These actions improve an operation’s bottom line and help reduce its carbon footprint. This funding will help incorporate renewable energy and energy efficiency technology and reduce energy costs. But beyond the local benefits seen by a company saving energy costs and the global benefits of reducing carbon emissions, this funding will also create American jobs by supporting energy production and efficiency installations that are made in rural America.”
Congress created the REAP program in the 2002 Farm Bill. Because of the success of the program, Congress reauthorized it in the 2014 Farm Bill with guaranteed funding of at least $50 million annually for the duration of the five-year bill. The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past seven years while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.
Since the start of the Obama Administration, REAP has helped finance 10,753 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that have reduced energy costs for rural businesses nationwide. During this period, USDA has provided almost $360 million in grants and $430 million in loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business owners. When operational, these projects will generate/save an estimated 8.4 million MWh.