November 3, 2016 -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on October 25th announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing more than $300 million to help hundreds of small businesses across the country save money on their energy costs by adopting renewable sources or implementing more efficient energy options.
'Cutting our energy waste is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways to help families save money on their energy bills while reducing harmful carbon pollution. Over the course of nearly eight years, the Obama Administration has taken strong actions to advance energy efficiency in our homes and businesses,' Vilsack said. 'Through efficiency upgrades and private-sector partnerships, America has been able to cut its carbon emissions, create jobs and save families hundreds of dollars at the pump and on their utility bills every year. The Rural Energy for America Program alone has helped roughly 15,000 rural small businesses, farmers and ranchers improve their bottom lines by installing renewable energy systems and energy efficiency solutions. When businesses lower their energy costs, they are also able to expand their services and contribute to stronger local economies.'
Nationwide, USDA is investing $237 million to support 423 businesses through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Recipients will use the loans and grants to install renewable energy systems such as biomass, geothermal, hydropower and solar. The funds also may be used to make energy efficiency improvements to their heating, ventilation and cooling systems; insulation; or lighting and refrigeration units.
USDA is investing nearly $80 million for energy projects in Texas, building on the $100 billion commitment USDA has made in the Lone Star State over the course of the Obama Administration. USDA's initiatives support the state's farmers and ranchers, ensure the availability of affordable housing, create jobs and promote economic opportunity for those who live, work and raise their families in rural areas.
Nine Texas businesses will receive more than $870,000 in REAP grants, and two businesses will receive loans of $5 million each. In Austin, the Vickery Wholesale Greenhouse Inc. is receiving a $28,238 REAP grant to install a 40.32 kW roof-mounted solar array. The electricity produced from this new installation will offset the company's annual energy consumption with an expected output of 198 million BTUs.
Vilsack also announced that Pedernales Electric Cooperative of Johnson City, Texas, received an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program (EECLP) loan of more than $68 million to fund system-wide energy efficiency improvements to assist a rural portion of the co-op's service territory. Pedernales' energy efficiency program will offer members low-interest loans of up to $20,000 for solar photovoltaic and energy storage equipment. Members will make loan payments through on-bill financing. The EECLP was created in November 2013 and has issued nearly $127 million in loans to cooperatives in Arkansas, North Carolina and Vermont.
Pedernales received its first Rural Electrification Administration loan on Sept. 27, 1938, with the help of then Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson. USDA's Rural Utilities Service, which administers EECLP, succeeded the Rural Electrification Administration in 1994.
Other examples of REAP projects receiving awards include Inter-State Hardwoods in Bartow, W.Va., which is getting a $237,331 grant to replace four wood-fired boiler systems. This is expected to decrease energy consumption by 39 percent - 876,000 kWh - per year. Inter-State is a sawmill and wood processor specializing in hardwoods. Minnesota's Chippewa Valley Ethanol Cooperative, LLP is receiving a $250,000 grant to make energy efficiency improvements to an evaporator at an ethanol refinery.
From 2009 to date, REAP has helped finance more than 11,600 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that have reduced energy costs for roughly 15,000 rural businesses. Among them is GrandyOats, an organic foods company located in a former elementary school in Hiram, Maine. In 2015, it received a $20,000 REAP grant to install a renewable energy system. In doing so, the company has made history, becoming Maine's first 100 percent solar-powered, net-zero food production facility. Its 228-panel, solar photovoltaic system generates 96,000 kWh of electricity annually. The company's focus on renewable energy encompasses all parts of the production process, from cooking to heating and more.
USDA has provided more than $380 million in grants and almost $688 million in loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business owners since the start of the Obama Administration. When operational, these projects will generate or save almost 9 million megawatt hours - enough to power more than 750,000 homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 5 million metric tons in carbon dioxide each year. That is the equivalent of removing 1.5 million cars from our roads.
Since 2009, USDA Rural Development (@USDARD) has invested nearly $13 billion to start or expand nearly 112,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 9,200 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses. USDA also has invested $31.3 billion in 963 electric projects that have financed more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving 4.6 million rural residents. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/results.
To read more about USDA's investments in renewable energy, visit USDA's entry on Medium.com, Powering America with a More Sustainable Energy Future.