USDA announces $300 Million for energy efficiency, renewables

By Sara Wyant

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2016 - 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, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He made the announcement at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas, Tuesday during a meeting with several local business owners who will make use of these loans and grants.

"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.

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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, Vilsack said. “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, which he said builds on the $100 billion commitment USDA has made in the Lone Star State over the course of the Obama Administration.

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.

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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.

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