USDA Invites Applications for Renewable Energy Funding

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is seeking applications to increase the production and use of renewable energy sources. Funding is available from four USDA Rural Development renewable energy programs authorized by the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill).

“This funding will help spur investments in technologies that will reduce reliance on fossil fuels, conserve natural resources and help build a sustained renewable energy industry in rural America,” Vilsack said. “Support provided by USDA through these programs will not only benefit the environment, it will create green jobs and help America become more energy self-sufficient.”  

USDA is accepting applications for grants and loan guarantees in the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) until June 30, 2010. More information on how to apply for funding is available in the April 26, 2010 Federal Register. The Rural Energy for America Program provides funds to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements.

Eligible projects include installing renewable energy systems such as wind turbines, solar, geothermal, biomass, anaerobic digesters, hydroelectric, and ocean or hydrogen systems. Funding may also be used to purchase energy-efficient equipment, add insulation, and improve heating and cooling systems.  Last year, 88 agricultural producers and small business owners in Illinois received grants and loans for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Independent energy audits showed that the selected applicants would save between 20 and 74 percent in energy usage.

For example, in 2009 Wayne-White Counties Electric Cooperative received a grant to install a geothermal heating and cooling system for the cooperative’s office building. The new system is expected to replace 74 percent of their energy usage. Last year 83 producers used the funding to upgrade to more efficient grain drying systems.

“The Rural Energy for America Program helps to cut energy costs for agriculture and small business operations and supports the development and use of renewable energy systems,” said Illinois State Director for Rural Development Colleen Callahan. “Both of those purposes are important for the growth of our rural economy.”

In addition to the REAP program, Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA is also planning to accept applications for three other renewable energy programs: the Biorefinery Assistance Program, Repowering Assistance Program and the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels. Details on how to apply can be found in the May 6, 2010 Federal Register.

• USDA’s Biorefinery Assistance Program provides guaranteed loans to develop and construct commercial-scale biorefineries or to retrofit existing facilities using eligible technology for the development of advanced biofuels. The amount of a loan guaranteed for a project under this program cannot exceed 80 percent of total eligible project costs.

• The Repowering Assistance Program is designed to encourage the use of renewable biomass as a replacement fuel source for fossil fuels used to provide process heat or power in the operation of eligible biorefineries (those biorefineries in existence on June 18, 2008 -- the date the 2008 Farm Bill was enacted).

• The Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels works to support and ensure expanding production of advanced biofuels by providing payments to eligible advanced biofuels producers. Advanced biofuels are derived from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch. These include cellulose, sugar and starch, crop residue, vegetative waste material, animal waste, food and yard waste, vegetable oil, animal fat, and biogas (including landfill gas and sewage waste treatment gas). This program is an important part of achieving the Obama administration’s goal to increase biofuels production and use.