Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA is seeking applications from rural small businesses and agricultural producers for funding to make energy efficiency improvements or to install renewable energy systems.
"Developing renewable energy presents an enormous economic opportunity for rural America," Vilsack said. "This funding will help farmers, ranchers and rural small business owners incorporate renewable energy and energy efficiency technology into their operations, create jobs and help America become more energy independent. When small rural businesses and farmers cut their energy costs with cleaner and more efficient energy, we are both helping their bottom lines and reducing the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that affects our climate."
The funding announced today is being provided through USDA's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Investments from programs like REAP help support the true engine of America's economic growth -- a thriving middle class. REAP is one of many USDA programs and initiatives to support an expanded domestic energy economy. In addition to helping to increase renewable energy production, USDA makes investments in the bioeconomy, provides support for the emerging biobased products industry, supports new technologies, and supports energy efficiency improvements.
REAP funding has helped farmers expand renewable energy use in recent years. The new Census of Agriculture shows the number of farms utilizing renewable energy production has doubled in the last five years. More than 57,000 farms reported using a renewable energy system in 2012, while 23,451 operations reported doing so in 2007. Solar panels accounted for 63% of renewable energy systems on farms, with 36,331 farms reporting their use.
REAP funding is an example of the many ways that USDA is helping revitalize rural economies to create opportunities for growth and prosperity, support innovative technologies, identify new markets for agricultural producers and better utilize our nation's natural resources.
Created by the 2008 Farm Bill, REAP was reauthorized by the recently passed 2014 Farm Bill. For fiscal year (FY) 2014, USDA plans to award up to $12.3 million in grants and $57.8 million in loan guarantees. Additional REAP funds provided by the Farm Bill will be made available with a subsequent notice.
USDA is accepting applications for:
Renewable energy system and energy efficiency improvement loan guarantee and grant combinations;
Renewable energy system and energy efficiency improvement loan guarantees; and
Renewable energy system and energy efficiency improvement grants.
Requests for grants may not exceed 25 percent of a project's cost -- either for stand-alone grant requests or for grants combined with loan guarantees.
Since the start of the Obama Administration, REAP has supported more than 8,200 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide. During this period, USDA has provided more than $264 million in grants and $212 million in loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business owners.
Cozy Acres Greenhouse in North Yarmouth, Maine, used a $48,750 REAP grant to help offset the cost of installing a solar and geothermal system in new greenhouses. Owners Jeff and Marianne Marstaller needed to expand their greenhouse operations and were determined to do so in a cost-effective and energy-efficient way. They teamed up with USDA Rural Development to fund a geothermal system to provide heat for the greenhouses and solar photovoltaic panels that help offset their electricity needs. The greenhouses were completed in fall 2013. The Marstallers plan to market their locally grown herbs and vegetables to area restaurants and farmers markets.
Information on how to apply for REAP funding and on the application deadlines (which vary by project type) is available on page 25564 of the May 5, 2014 Federal Register.
President Obama's plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President's leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way -- strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA's investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.