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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.

Save Energy with USDA Rural Development

Last month, Secretary Vilsack announced the opening of the new application cycle for our Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). In addition to the announcement, RBS conducted a national REAP stakeholder forum which discussed program changes and provided examples of successful projects from previous years.

For example, Ideal Dairy restaurant of Richfield, Utah used a REAP grant to leverage a loan from Zions Bank and install an array of solar panels on the roof of its retail location. The addition has saved an average of $400 a month in electricity expenditures for owners Kristi and Gary Sorenson. A larger scale solar project in Guayanila, Puerto Rico allowed a major employer – Master Paints and Chemicals Corporation – to completely offset its $180,000 annual energy expenses and give it independence from fossil fuel-based energy.

Investing in the Future of Maine's Great Outdoors with Renewable Energy

Recently I had the privilege of joining Matthew Hancock and his team at Mt. Abram, a unique, sustainable ski area located in the mountains of Western Maine. An immense 803 panel solar photovoltaic system greeted gatherers as they drove in, the result of a Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) Grant awarded by Maine USDA Rural Development. The system in Greenwood is the second largest solar project in the country for a ski area, the first ever in Maine, and as a sign next to the solar panels boasts, it is also the “World’s Largest Snow Making Site.”

This important project was made possible in part by a USDA Rural Development Rural Energy for America Program Grant, which provided $235,000 of the $940,000 total project cost. Matt’s business will benefit significantly, with 70 percent of operations at the ski area operating on solar generated power, while skiers and nature enthusiasts will appreciate its green, carbon emission-reducing features, making Mt. Abram truly “Maine’s Sustainable Mountain Playground.” In addition to its solar features, Mt. Abram heats the lodge with wood pellets and was the second ski area in North America to install electric vehicle chargers.

Small Loan Makes Big Difference for Family in Remote Area of Navajo Nation

Some mornings Nona Schuler would make the teeth-jarring drive along a washboard dirt road from her home on the Navajo Nation to her job in town only to discover when she got there that her earrings didn’t match. Without electricity and lighting, it was often difficult for her to see what she was doing in those early morning hours.

It was those small inconveniences that she spoke of most during a visit to her home on June 17 by USDA Rural Development Housing Administrator Tony Hernandez.

Hernandez, my staff, and I were at the Schulers to present the family with a certificate naming them as Homeownership Family of the Year for Arizona Rural Development. The designation was in honor of a solar PV system that was added to the Schuler home through a partnership with USDA, Grand Canyon Trust and Snyder Electric.

New Forest Service Facility in California uses No Electricity from the Utility Grid

About 25 miles east of Los Angeles, the Forest Service’s San Dimas Technology Development Center is ready to start operations using a photovoltaic array to supply the buildings there with a potential 600,000 kilowatt hours of current each year.

“This system has made the San Dimas Center a ‘net-zero energy’ facility, the first in the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” explained Forest Service Chief, Tom Tidwell. “This means the facility produces more renewable energy per year than the total energy used by the facility.”