The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a series of changes to make it easier for agricultural producers and rural small businesses to apply for renewable energy and energy efficiency funding. USDA remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. Today's announcement is one part of the Department's efforts to strengthen the rural economy.
"These changes are intended to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses throughout America," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "They will streamline and simplify the application process and give businesses more time to do what they do best: innovate, create jobs and serve their rural communities."
The proposed changes would affect applications for loans and grants through USDA Rural Development's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). They would:
- Reduce paperwork, especially for projects under $80,000;
- Implement a more objective and uniform system to score applications;
- Authorize funding for refurbished and retrofitted renewable energy systems;
- Reduce certain reporting requirements;
- Establish 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. From the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill through the end of Fiscal Year 2012, REAP funded more than 6,800 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, feasibility studies, energy audits and renewable energy development assistance projects.
In 2012, for example, USDA Rural Development provided ARC Technology of Whitewater, Kan., a $9,945 REAP grant to assist with installing a 12.2 kilowatt solar array. As a direct result of the USDA grant, the company expects to save approximately $1,300 per year on its electric bill and see a return on its investment in only two years.
USDA is accepting comments on the proposed rule through June 11, 2013. For details on how to submit comments, or for additional information, see Page 22044 of the April 12 Federal Register, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-04-12/pdf/2013-07273.pdf.
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. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are committed to a smarter use of Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.
USDA has made a concerted effort to deliver results for the American people, even as USDA implements sequestration - the across-the-board budget reductions mandated under terms of the Budget Control Act. USDA has already undertaken historic efforts since 2009 to save more than $700 million in taxpayer funds through targeted, common-sense budget reductions. These reductions have put USDA in a better position to carry out its mission, while implementing sequester budget reductions in a fair manner that causes as little disruption as possible.