Clean Energy On The Farm Gets Big US Assist

Farms are energy hungry enterprises that need power for equipment, farming, processing and packaging. In 2007 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched a renewable energy program that would provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding to support wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric projects on U.S. farms and rural businesses. The idea was that by helping struggling farmers and small business owners to invest in renewable energy technology, Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) could help save those individuals thousands of dollars in energy costs.

By the end of November 2011, the program had already approved $30 million in loans and grants to 516 farmers nationwide, for projects including a 8.36 kilowatt (kW) solar photovoltaic system for a dairy farm in Massachusetts; energy efficient air compressors, boilers, temperature and lighting controls for a steel factory in Kansas; and a new, energy efficient grain dryer for a farmer in South Dakota. Now, the USDA is ready to boast of the REAP’s success. In late March, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released a report outlining the projects that are under way and reminding other eligible farmers, ranchers and rural business owners that they could be next in line.

image via USDA

Titled, “The Impact of the  Rural Energy for America Program on Promoting Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy,” the report boasts that REAP has been extra active since President Obama took office, supporting a total of 5,733 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide and providing $192 million in grants and $165 million in loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business owners.

But even before the government hopped on the bandwagon, American farmers were noticing the cost effectiveness of energy efficiency and renewable energy technology. According to the USDA, the rate of solar installation on farms increased almost five times between 2000 and 2009. With the REAP programs, farms saw a five-fold increase in solar installations in just two years, from 2007 to 20o9.

But REAP also funds a host of other kinds of energy technologies, including biodigestors that use organic waste matter and transform it into methane gas for power, small-scale wind turbines, flex fuel pumps, biogas and wood-to-energy biomass projects. Energy efficiency projects include grain dryers, lighting efficiency projects, reverse osmosis systems, irrigiation systems and building efficiency programs. Each of the projects costs only a few thousand dollars but can ultimately save many more thousands in the long run.

Shifra Mincer is a freelance journalist and passionate tweeter (@Shiframincer) currently living in Israel. Before moving to Israel to apprentice with a homebirth midwife, Shifra worked as Associate Editor of AOL Energy, and was a member of the launch team that got the site up and running. Shifra has over a half a decade of experience in journalism and has written on women's health, green technology, politics and regulation of the energy industry, energy financial news, and local news. While studying for her B.A. at Harvard College, Shifra worked as a news editor for the Harvard Crimson. Shifra is also a yoga teacher and a birth doula and is hoping to create an active Jewish birth community through her web venture www.layda.org.