Today, Rep. Tim Walz, the Ranking Member of the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry, applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture after they proposed a series of changes to make it easier for agricultural producers and rural small businesses to apply for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The proposed changes are also a part of Walz's Rural Energy Improvement Act, which he introduced in late March.
"I'm pleased USDA is working proactively to incorporate some of our commonsense changes to the Rural Energy for America Program that will streamline the application process and increase access for farmers and small businesses," said Walz, Ranking Member of the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry. "As we move forward, I will continue to advocate for policies that reduce our dependence on foreign oil, allow us to take control of our energy future, and reinvigorate our local economies."
According to the USDA, the proposed changes would affect applications for loans and grants through USDA Rural Development's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) by:
-Reducing paperwork, especially for projects under $80,000;
-Implementing a more objective and uniform system to score applications;
-Authorizing funding for refurbished and retrofitted renewable energy systems;
-Reducing certain reporting requirements;
-Establishing a quarterly application period for applicants seeking only guaranteed loans. This change is intended to make the program more appealing to lenders and to ensure that funds are available year-round.
REAP is one of USDA's most popular renewable energy and energy efficiency programs and helps farmers and small businesses right here in southern Minnesota.
Rush Foods, a family-owned grocery retailer with locations in Rushford, Harmony, and Preston, used a REAP grant to purchase and install doors on its freezers and coolers at its Rushford location. The projected savings to the store are estimated at $330 on its monthly energy bill and reduce energy consumption by about 39,558 Kilowatt hours (kWh) annually.
"The new system has been well received by our customers, they appreciate our investment in energy saving technologies by converting to LED lighting and putting the doors on the open cases," said Brad Hoiness, operations manager at Rush Foods. "These changes also reduce the load on our compressor system, extending the life of our equipment. The end result is better lighting and more consistent product temperatures which improves the quality of our fresh foods and extends the life of these products in our customers' refrigerators."
Grants may cover up to 25 percent of a project's costs. Loan guarantees through private lenders are also available. According to the USDA, since 2009 the REAP program has helped over 700 small businesses and farmers in Minnesota install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements. These investments are projected to save about 11,000 kWh per week.