Renewable Energy for America Program Important, Beneficial Aspect of Farm Bill for Nation
February 13, 2012
The Renewable Energy for America Program [REAP] provides grants and loan guarantees for a broad range of clean energy technologies including biomass, wind and solar, which helps farmers and rural small businesses cut their energy bills with new modern technology. Environmental Law and Policy Center senior policy advocate Andy Olsen says farm energy development has made great progress since 2003. Olsen says that progress has allowed every ag sector to benefit according to their own circumstances and energy needs.
"For example, the dairy industry is using REAP to really move forward with manure digesters in a great way, as well as for energy efficiency for their operations. And then we've seen a lot of community energy development with community wind and community digesters have taken place with the energy title programs, and there's just so much more potential that we have. It would be a real shame if Congress was to halt this progress now by retreating in the 2012 Farm Bill."
Community Energy Partners president Sue Jones conducts REAP outreach in Maine and has written grants that have brought more than $1.2 million in funding and around $500,000 in guaranteed loans for renewable energy projects. Jones says as a result farmers and small businesses not only save money but also help the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Jones says there have been two prominent changes to REAP recently.
"In general, the program has remained intact as it has for the past few years. But the two prominent changes are drastically reduced funding levels since last year to about $24 million available this next round. And the second one, which is very important, is that the timeline has changed. In the past, most of the time the deadlines were in late spring, April, May or June, and this year they're in February and March. So it's very important for folks to know when the deadlines are so they can get their applications in in time."
About a year ago, Jones learned that four schools in Ohio received funding from REAP by incorporating renewable technologies. Even though schools technically aren't eligible applicants, they qualified under REAP as a small business by incorporating those new technologies. Jones says her outreach now extends to schools and municipalities. There are various stages at which schools and municipalities can apply, according to Jones, but most importantly, they can apply for a feasibility grant. That grant can offset some of the costs and risks of doing an upfront community wind feasibility assessment.
"If they're awarded that, or if they go forward with that, and they find that they do have a feasible site, they can actually come in for a second round of funding the following year and apply for a REAP equipment grant that can help them offset the costs of a wind turbine or other pieces of wind equipment. So it's a nice program in that it can help you in consecutive years to help get your project in place."
ELPC's Olsen says the REAP grant application process is competitive because of the limited funds. Olsen suggests people work with their state rural development energy coordinator on the applications from the beginning so the coordinator knows they are working on the project and they get good advice.
"There are different applications for small projects as compared to the bigger projects. The important thing is to plan ahead so you have your energy audit done for your facility early and then to put together a good application with an eye toward the number of points that you're scoring. The competitive process uses points, and therefore the more points you have, the more likely you are to win. So, people should definitely pay close attention to that."
Over the past two years, Olsen says there have been drastic and disproportionate cuts to REAP and the other farm bill clean energy programs. Olsen says Congress cut REAP funding for 2012 by 66% from the year before. With Congress currently working on reauthorization of the Farm Bill, Olsen says it's uncertain as to whether REAP and other energy title programs will be included in the next Farm Bill.
"Clean energy and conservation are two of the most popular parts of the Farm Bill with the general public, but they're also two that are facing the deepest cuts right now. So, the question to what the future holds really depends on how much people speak up to their members of Congress and let them know that this is a priority for America, to keep moving forward on the progress that we've seen in REAP over the years of the program."
To apply for a REAP grant, visit www.farmenergy.org and search for your state rural energy coordinator under application tools. Also, work with your hardware vendor to make sure you have the proper information necessary for the equipment you want to install.
The deadline for energy audits and renewable energy development assistance applications is February 21st.