USDA’s REAP boosts rural clean energy use

The Department of Agriculture is providing $173m to finance small-scale renewable energy projects for rural businesses and farms.

The United States Department of Agriculture is providing $173 million to finance over 1,100 small-scale renewable energy projects to lower electricity costs and raise energy efficiency for rural small businesses and agricultural producers.

The USDA’s Rural Energy for America Programme (REAP) is providing $102 million in loan guarantees and $71 million in grants to farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to install renewable energy projects and energy efficiency upgrades. The 1,114 projects it is now funding are expected to generate a combined 906,000 MW/hours of clean energy, enough to power more than 83,000 homes for a year and cut carbon pollution by 455,000 metric tons.

The projects that qualify for REAP financing include renewable energy sourced from wind, solar, ocean, small hydropower, geothermal and biomass. Energy efficiency upgrades include lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, fans and upgrades that lower energy consumption.

REAP was first announced in early 2015 with up to $280 million to finance clean energy projects. The programme provides guaranteed loans up to 75 percent of total project costs, with a $25 million loan maximum, and grants cover up to 25 percent of total project costs. Renewable energy grants allotted up to $500,000 and energy efficiency grants up to $250,000.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that funding through the REAP program will help save small businesses money and reduce its carbon footprint. “More rural business owners and ag producers are incorporating energy-saving measures into their business plans,” he said.

Rural small businesses are already benefitting from REAP. Parker Farms in western Tennessee received a $45,000 grant last year to help finance a 50KW solar system that has lowered the farm’s electric bill by almost $10,000 a year. Fresh Air Energy EXI in North Carolina has secured a $3.8 million REAP loan to build a 6.5MW solar farm.