American farmers REAP what they sow: US$63m in rural renewables funding announced

On-farm solar array withstands a US winter: the USDA has announced US$63m in rural renewables funding.
On-farm solar array withstands a US winter: the USDA has announced US$63m in rural renewables funding.
Jim Kelly, Flickr CC, wwwflickrphotoscompthread

On 7 August 2015, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced US$63 million in loans and grants for 264 renewable energy and energy-efficiency and renewable energy projects across America that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) supports through its Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

“This funding will have far-reaching economic and environmental impacts nationwide, particularly in rural communities,” Vilsack said. "Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects supports home-grown energy sources, creates jobs, reduces greenhouse gas pollution and helps usher in a more secure energy future for the nation.”

Grants cover everything from on-farm installations of solar photovoltaic arrays and wind turbines to funding for biodiesel enterprises.

Heidel Hollow Farms, Pennsylvania, and its 896-panel solar array made possible by a USDA grant.
Heidel Hollow Farms, Pennsylvania, and its 896-panel solar array made possible by a USDA grant.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

One example the USDA cites is that of Georgia-based Blue Sky Poultry, Inc, which was granted US$16,094 to install a solar PV array on the roof of its poultry houses that’s expected to generate 36,300 kWh of electricity annually. Another recipient, Ohio-based orchardist Bradley Phillips, plans to use his US$18,000 grant to install an on-farm solar photovoltaic (PV) system that should generate almost 13,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per annum. And South Winston Farm, LLC, in North Carolina, will get a US$4 million loan guarantee to finance a seven-megawatt solar array system that’s expected to generate enough energy to power 994 households per year.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Stokes Farms, LLP, will receive US$19,750 to install an on-farm 10 kW wind turbine that, once operational, should generate 30,000 kWh of electricity per annum. And Lakeview Biodiesel, LLC will use its US$3.3 million loan guarantee to help acquire a biodiesel plant and upgrade its facilities and enable it to produce enough biodiesel to run 16,500-odd vehicles annually.

A solar photovoltaic array at Cooper Vineyards in Virginia, the second winery in the US to be awarded LEED Platinum certification
A solar photovoltaic array at Cooper Vineyards in Virginia, the second winery in the US to be awarded LEED Platinum certification
US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Most of the the funding is going toward similar small projects, with the agency also financing bigger solar projects through  US$3 to US$4 million loan guarantees and a US$5 million project to convert wood into gas.

Any eligible US agricultural producers and small rurally-based businesses may apply for REAP funding for energy-efficiency improvements or the installation of renewable energy systems, including solar, wind, renewable biomass equipment and facilities (such as anaerobic digesters), small hydroelectric plants, ocean energy, hydrogen and geothermal power generators.

Since the beginning of the Obama Administration, the USDA’s REAP program - created by the US’s 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorised by the 2014 Farm Bill, has supported more than 9,600 renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects nationwide, providing more than US$291 million in grants and $327 million in loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small-business owners.

Some of the 240 solar panels at Seldom Rest Farms, Pennsylvania, a recipient of USDA renewable-energy funding..
Some of the 240 solar panels at Seldom Rest Farms, Pennsylvania, a recipient of USDA renewable-energy funding (2011).
US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
 
 

This round of REAP-funded projects is expected to generate and/or save 207.8 million kilowatt hours (KWh) of energy—enough to power more than 13,600 homes for a year.

Perhaps Australia's PM Tony Abbott could take a leaf out of the Obama Administration's book and demonstrate his commitment to those in our nation's rural sector  seeking to make the transition to renewables.

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