by Joe Sadonis, published by Country Folks News, July 2018
As two versions of the Farm Bill emerge from the House and Senate, the fate of REAP (Rural Energy for America Program) hangs in the balance. Since 2008 the REAP program has been assisting farmers and other rural small business owners in making energy efficiency improvements and install their own renewable energy systems by offering grants and loan guarantees to finance the projects. The senate version of the Farm Bill keeps the REAP program and guarantees its funding while the House version does away with it entirely.
By investing in renewables, farms and businesses can lower their monthly energy expense and protect themselves from inflation in energy prices. REAP has stimulated investment in renewable energy across the country, and Virginia has seen its share of the program offerings.
“In Fiscal Year 2017, USDA Rural Development invested more than $423 million nationwide through Rural Energy for America Program, said Beth Green, USDA Rural Development Virginia State Director. “In Virginia, the agency awarded more than $1 million across the Commonwealth.”
“Grantees of the Rural Energy for America Program assist rural small businesses and agricultural producers by conducting and promoting energy audits, and providing renewable energy development assistance,” said Green. “The program helps increase American energy independence by increasing the private sector supply of renewable energy and decreasing the demand for energy through energy efficiency improvements. Over time, these investments can also help lower energy costs for small businesses and agricultural producers.”
EXPERIENCE COUNTS IN REAP GRANT APPLICATION
“Altenergy, Inc. has had significant success assisting our customers in applying for REAP grants for solar projects for wineries, growers, feed distributors, farm equipment outlets, and other small business in rural areas,” explains Joe Moore, Vice President, Operations for the company. “The grant can cover as much as 25% of the overall project cost. These businesses reduce a large monthly expense, and in many cases generate all of their electricity through onsite solar generation. Not only do the systems pay for themselves in 3-5 years, but the system owners are protected from future rate increases from the utility, reducing uncertainty and allowing for them to better plan for future growth.”
Onsite solar generation has a ripple effect in the communities where it is installed, by creating jobs for local solar companies and increasing the resiliency of the grid. Most rural areas in Virginia are served by co-ops that purchase electricity rather than generate it themselves. When their members install solar generating systems within their service territory it can help them reduce the amount the co-op needs to buy from third parties. This becomes an especially good cost-saving measure on hot summer days when peak demand due to air conditioning forces spikes in energy usage. Peak demand comes with a peak price and avoiding these allows the co-op to save money for all its members. In a recent study by Renewable Energy World, distributed solar generation was found to be cheaper than utility scale solar when line losses and the impact on the local economy are factored in. By installing electricity generation at the point of consumption, you virtually eliminate losses in the transmission line which range from 8%-15%. Additionally, paying a local company to install the solar array keeps those dollars in the community.
“November 1st is the due date for the final round of grant applications in VA under the existing REAP program, said Moore. “If you are interested in applying, please contact us right away. It is a competitive process; but we are very familiar with the process and can help maximize the chances that your project will receive funding. In the meantime, please reach out to your legislators and tell them that you want to see the REAP program remain in the Farm bill. Helping farmers achieve energy sovereignty is good for the economy and helps keep prices low for consumers.”
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