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renewable energy

Celebrating 80 Years of Partnership

This is a special year for rural electric cooperative utilities.  Eighty years ago, Congress passed and President Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.

The REA brought electricity to rural America, ultimately making the United States the source of the world’s food, fuel and fiber—the breadbasket for the world.

REAPing America's Clean Energy Future

USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program, commonly referred to as ‘REAP’, provides financial resources for rural agricultural producers and small businesses to help them improve their bottom line. REAP provides loan guarantees and small grants to support these producers and owners as they improve the energy efficiency of their operations and develop renewable energy sources.

Today, Secretary Vilsack announced hundreds of new projects like the one I visited over the summer in Central City, Nebraska.  It exemplifies the strategic thinking our rural communities use daily to find new ways to prosper.  A community just shy of 3,000 residents, Central City is home to the first community solar garden project ever developed in Nebraska.

Collective Solar Victory in Virginia

Many people in this country would love to use solar or other types of renewable energy in their homes, but barriers may exist to stifle interest in small-scale renewable energy implementation.

Not everyone has the roof space, the sunlight, or the money for a solar energy project. Not everyone has the weather or the local know-how for a wind energy project. The list could go on, but any hurdles such a list might include will no longer hinder the residents of Rockbridge, Bath, Highland, Augusta and Alleghany, Virginia, from realizing their goal of using clean energy in their homes.

The Bio-Based Economy and Renewable Energy: USDA's Record of Success

One of the hallmarks of the Obama Administration has been our commitment to economic growth through an expanding bio-based economy.  Nowhere is that transformation more pronounced than the success of renewable energy.   And USDA Rural Development has been a leader in that effort.

The proof is in the numbers: Domestic energy-related emissions have fallen to their lowest level in 20 years.  Our dependence on foreign oil is at a 40-year low and declining. In the last eight years, USDA has helped lead an effort to promote the domestic production and use of advanced biofuels and biobased products, supporting millions of jobs and pumping hundreds-of-billions-of-dollars into the U.S. economy.

From Recovery to Renewal: Rural America's Partner for Prosperity

Eight years ago this month, the US economy went into free fall. The crash of the housing market led to a chain of historic levels of bankruptcies and layoffs. The stock market would eventually lose 20% of its value; family incomes, investments, and home values were being crushed. Along with that, the hopes and dreams of many families.

One month after stepping into office, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the greatest single investment in our nation’s economy since “The New Deal.”

EPA Recognizes U.S. Department of Agriculture Among Nation's Leading Green Power USERS

In 2015, USDA launched the answer to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan challenge for food and forestry, with the Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry. Ten building blocks span a range of technologies and practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon storage and generate clean renewable energy.  Through the Department’s voluntary and incentive-based conservation and energy programs, USDA and its partners are moving forward to reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sequestration by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year, or about 2 percent of economy-wide net greenhouse emissions, by 2025. This reduction is the equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road or offsetting the emissions produced by powering nearly 11 million homes per year.

In keeping with these efforts, USDA too is working to reduce its own carbon footprint.  USDA is proud to be part of the Green Power Partnership, a voluntary program that encourages organizations to use green power as a way to reduce the environmental impacts associated with electricity use.  And USDA is even more proud to be recognized as number five on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA's) Top 10 Federal Government list of the largest green power users from the Green Power Partnership. Additionally, USDA is number 43 on the National Top 100 list.

California's Clean Energy Pioneers Come in Black and White

California has a pioneering spirit. Rural folks there have been on the frontier for generations. That frontier may have been gold mines and cattle grasslands in the past, but today that frontier is the very air, soil and water of California itself. Climate change is transforming California like it’s transforming our globe. But Californians are leading the pioneer charge to transform, with pragmatism, ingenuity and a commitment to rural communities.

Just recently, I visited a small dairy farm in Elk Grove, California, the site of an anaerobic digester. Case Van Steyn’s operation of around 700 cows produces manure, and the Maas Energy digester, secluded in an unobtrusive red shipping container, uses the manure to produce methane. That methane creates enough electricity to power 125 homes—and enough to sell electricity back to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, or SMUD.

Bringing up Better Biofuel

The idea of replacing fossil-based fuel, such as petroleum, with a renewable energy source is enough to get any environmentalist excited. Now, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have advanced a process to produce crude liquid fuel called “bio-oil” from agricultural waste. The bio-oil is produced by a process called “pyrolysis,” which involves chemical decomposition of plant and other organic matter at very high heat without oxygen.  This new technology for producing renewable fuels is called “tail-gas reactive pyrolysis” or TGRP.

The TGRP method might be considered a new generation of pyrolysis because it holds promise for processing and improving bio-oil as an intermediate product toward finished biofuel.

See How Clean Rural Energy is Growing North Carolina, and the Nation

In the last fiscal year, USDA Rural Development invested over $240 million in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects across the nation. Through our Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) we have changed the face of clean energy in our rural communities by promoting energy efficiency in rural small businesses and agricultural operations and the development of renewable energy sources in and around these small communities.

The renewable energy component has expanded both small and large-scale clean energy development in a number of sectors including geothermal, solar, wind, hydropower, and biofuels. Utilizing resources already available in our rural areas whether it's sun and wind, or water and agricultural waste, USDA in partnership with local lenders has been able to provide the financial underpinnings to grow hundreds of renewable energy projects.

Reducing Energy Use and Costs & Getting #USDAResults for Virginia Businesses and Farmers

This week in Virginia, USDA Rural Development announced eight Rural Energy for America (REAP) grants totaling $107,500.

It’s always an honor to award REAP grants because they help Virginia’s rural businesses by rewarding innovation. The REAP program helps rural businesses and agricultural producers save money, make their operations more energy efficient, and protect the environment.