USDA to Help 821 Rural Small Businesses Boost Renewable Energy Use, Save on Energy Costs - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Energy Efficiency, Industrial, Regulation, Commercial, Finance, Industrial, Sourcing Renewables  -  July 15, 2016

USDA commits nearly $55M for renewable energy, efficiency projects at small businesses, farms

Major businesses like Apple Inc., Google Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are often credited for helping to accelerate corporate adoption of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in the U.S., but the Fortune 100s aren't the only ones in on the action. 

A groundswell of momentum toward smarter energy decisions has also taken hold among the country's small businesses and farms; this trend is evidenced in the approximately 15,000 that have collectively reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by more than five million metric tons per year since 2009 with the help of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on July 11 announced new funding for the Rural Energy for America Program that will help pay for 821 energy efficiency and renewable energy system projects across the nation that the USDA says will help rural small businesses and agricultural producers reduce energy usage and costs in their operations. In total, the USDA is providing $43.2 million in loan guarantees and $11.6 million in grants through the program, also known as REAP, for projects in every state, as well as in the Virgin Islands, the Western Pacific and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, according to a news release. 

"These investments in clean energy are good for the environment, are good for each business's bottom line and they support the broader rural economy by encouraging the production of renewable energy sources," Vilsack said in a statement. 

Funding of each award announced today is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the loan or grant agreement.

Through the program, Delaney's Landscape Center, a family-owned business providing plants and landscaping services in Polson, Mont., was selected to receive a $10,298 grant to install a geothermal renewable energy system to heat its greenhouse. The system is expected to save the business nearly $2,000 per year and generate more than 15,000 kWh of energy. The project also supports USDA's StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity by investing in a high poverty area.

The Sundry Store Inc., another family-owned business, providing home improvement tools and household items, is receiving a $15,565 grant through REAP to replace its fluorescent and incandescent lighting system with an LED system. The new system is expected to save the Etowah, Tenn., business $13,676 annually and reduce energy usage by 136,766 kWh annually. 

Since 2009 the USDA has provided more than $373 million in grants and almost $481 million in loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business owners through REAP. When operational, these projects will generate or save almost 9 million megawatt hours, the USDA said. 

The department says the Rural Energy for America Program, created when Congress passed the 2002 Farm Bill, also helps businesses create jobs, helps farmers and rural businesses reduce their carbon footprint, and helps the country move closer to energy independence. Because of the program's success, Congress reauthorized it in the 2014 Farm Bill with guaranteed funding of at least $50 million annually for the duration of the five-year Farm Bill.

In total, the USDA said it has invested $38 billion in electric loans and more than $1 billion for smart grid technologies since 2009, helping build more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving approximately 5 million rural customers annually. 

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