Rural customers develop efficiency, renewable projects with REAP funds

The June 30 deadline is approaching for the final round of grants and guaranteed loan financing from the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

REAP funding helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses purchase and install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements. Western customers are among the electric cooperatives, communities and businesses that have benefited from the program.

Making difference in Midwest
Agricultural communities in the Midwest face many economic challenges in spite of the region generally enjoying low-cost power. Since the program’s inception in 2002, REAP has contributed to the economic health of this part of the country by helping farmers and small businesses reduce operating expenses. Rural electric cooperatives have used REAP funding to diversify their resource portfolios.

Nobles Cooperative Electric You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Worthington, Minnesota, was an early REAP recipient. When the state legislature began considering a statewide renewable electricity standard, the co-op applied for a grant to install a utility-scale wind turbine in its territory. In addition to the $500,000 REAP grant, Nobels received $2.5 million through Clean Renewable Energy Bonds from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CFC) to fund renewable energy projects. General Manager Richard Burud noted that the CFC and USDA assistance made the difference between doing the project and not doing the project.

Increasing irrigation efficiency
In the dry western farming region of all-public power Nebraska, growers rely on irrigation systems that use great quantities of both water and energy.  Many irrigation systems are powered by diesel engines, which have high carbon emissions and expose farmers to volatile fuel costs. Nebraska Public Power DistrictYou are leaving WAPA.gov. one of the state’s largest electric providers , teamed up with USDA Rural Development staff in 2004 to help more than 200 farmers receive REAP (then called Section 9006) grants to replace diesel or propane-fueled irrigation motors with electric motors.

NPPD helped agricultural customers in western Nebraska apply for USDA REAP funds to convert their irrigation pumps from diesel motors to efficient electric motors. Electric pumping systems are also more compatible with remote management technology. (Photo by Nebraska USDA Rural Development Office)
NPPD helped agricultural customers in western Nebraska apply for USDA REAP funds to convert their irrigation pumps from diesel motors to efficient electric motors. Electric pumping systems are also more compatible with remote management technology. (Photo by Nebraska USDA Rural Development Office)

Close cooperation was critical to the program’s success. Rural Development did extensive outreach to growers, focusing on irrigation projects, while NPPD staff conducted the energy assessments needed to apply for the grants. “We continue to support REAP projects by doing energy audits for applicants,” explained NPPD Energy Efficiency Consultant Ron Rose. “Audits performed by a certified energy manager earn more points for the applicant in the USDA scoring process.”

The farmers did their part too, working through the application process to receive grants that averaged around $7,000 per system. “The grants don’t pay for the whole project, but they lower the payback period considerably,” acknowledged Rose.

Given the fuel prices at the time, farmers were able to save as much as 30 percent of their irrigation energy costs by converting from diesel to electric. Rose noted that even though fuel prices have dropped, the electric pumping systems are still popular because remote management technology works better with electric equipment. “The farmers are able to control irrigation from their smart phones or tablets,” he said.

Helping customers helps utility
The REAP project stabilized energy cost for the applicants, gave them greater control over their systems and has encouraged some growers to move to solar powered pumps. Investing in energy efficiency can increase the income for a farm or business, and buying and installing new equipment creates economic activity in the community.

An economically healthier community is always good for a public-power utility. More directly, moving some of its larger customers from fossil fuel to electric power adds to NPPD’s customer base. Other REAP projects, such as solar grain dryers and building envelope upgrades for small businesses, promise future benefits for peak load control while keeping the local economy strong.

Rose urges customers to contact their local USDA Rural Development offices You are leaving WAPA.gov. to get their applications as soon as possible. Power providers may help support applications by providing energy audits. Also, keep in mind that REAP is a grant rather than a rebate, advises Rose. “Complete the application before you start the project.”

USDA Rural Energy for America Program supports wind energy, much more

Award recognizes program’s contribution to community wind development

Windustry’s You are leaving WAPA.gov. Community Wind Distinguished Service Award for 2015 went to a champion of energy efficiency and renewable energy development in small towns and farming communities.

Left to right - Larry Flowers, Wind Consulting, Colorado; John Beeler, USDA; Venus Welch-White, PhD, Management and Program Analyst; Sam Rikkers, Deputy Administrator; Lisa Daniels, Windustry, Minnesota; Heather Rhoads-Weaver, eFormative Options, Washington; Tom Wind, Wind Utility Associates, Iowa (Photo by Windustry)
Left to right – Larry Flowers, Wind Consulting, Colorado; John Beeler, USDA; Venus Welch-White, PhD, Management and Program Analyst; Sam Rikkers, Deputy Administrator; Lisa Daniels, Windustry, Minnesota; Heather Rhoads-Weaver, eFormative Options, Washington; Tom Wind, Wind Utility Associates, Iowa (Photo by Windustry)

The Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) received the award for its exemplary efforts to break new ground in making community and distributed wind accessible to all. The Windustry board of directors and a group of wind professionals presented the award to John Beeler of the USDA on March 26 at the advocacy group’s headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Funding for renewables, efficiency
REAP has done outstanding work for rural communities since 2002, providing guaranteed loan financing and grant funding for a wide variety of renewable energy systems and energy-efficiency improvements.

In addition to wind generation, agricultural producers and rural small businesses may use REAP funds to buy, install or build:

  • Biomass (e.g. biodiesel and ethanol, anaerobic digesters, and solid fuels)
  • Geothermal for electric generation or direct use
  • Hydrogen
  • Small and large solar generation

The 2008 Farm Bill added tidal, wave, ocean thermal and hydroelectric systems below 30 megawatts to the list of eligible technologies.

REAP grants also fund projects that save energy (electricity, propane or natural gas or diesel fuel). Dairy pumps and cooling systems, weatherization of poultry houses, efficient lighting and ventilation, irrigation equipment, industrial motors and supermarket refrigeration systems are eligible.

Energy-efficiency grants cannot be used to expand facilities, or to support agricultural equipment or other vehicles. For renewable energy systems, only proven, commercially available and pre-commercial technology is eligible. Residential renewable energy systems do not qualify for grants, unless a small business, such as a rural electric cooperative, owns the system. Also, grants cannot fund research and development activities.

Still time to apply for 2015
Funding for Fiscal Year 2014 and FY2015 were combined this year for a total of $101 million, most of which has been allocated. However, the application deadline for the final round of REAP funding in 2015 is June 30.

Applicants should contact their USDA state energy coordinator You are leaving WAPA.gov. early. State energy coordinators can help review applications and offer guidance, but they generally have less time to assist closer to the deadline. FarmEnergy.org, a website that provides information on the Energy Title programs of the Federal Farm Bill, is another source of assistance to newcomers to the application process.

Utilities also benefit from this often-overlooked source of funding for projects that support their efficiency and renewable energy goals and requirements. Contact your local REAP office to learn more about the application process, and then share that knowledge with eligible customers. You will not only increase customer loyalty, you may be helping REAP to win its next award.

Source: Western’s Green Power News via Windustry, 4/18/15