By Kalee Olson, Policy Associate, Center for Rural Affairs
Agricultural producers and small rural business owners looking to improve their energy efficiency or install clean energy infrastructure can receive financial support through the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program.
Administered by the US Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, this program provides grants and guaranteed loans for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements. The deadline to apply for a grant is March 31.
Farm to Family, a new cooperative grocery store in Hay Springs, Nebraska, is one such rural business that has taken advantage of REAP to improve its energy efficiency. Jessica Heesacker, who organized the effort to open the store, noted that a REAP grant was one of many that helped turn her community’s vision into reality.
The store needed upgraded coolers to replace the 50-year-old models previously used in the space. With REAP funds, Heesacker was able to purchase three energy-efficient coolers for the store’s deli counter and fresh produce aisle.
Like other grantees, Farm to Family is located in an eligible rural area, defined as having a population of 50,000 or less. Farmers and ranchers, on the other hand, must prove that more than 50% of their annual gross income is generated by their farming operation to apply.
Heesacker noted that the success of his candidacy was due, in part, to good planning. In addition to support from her local rural development office, she worked with an energy auditor to identify opportunities for energy efficiency improvements and collect bids for the equipment – two steps required as part of the bidding process. . An energy audit also provided insight into potential annual savings.
“These steps combined helped us identify what we could and should do,” Heesacker said.
REAP grants and loans are available for projects of varying sizes. Grants can cover up to 25% of eligible project costs and guaranteed loans can cover up to 75% of eligible costs. Loan applicants must work with a lender who is interested in participating in the program.
“I strongly encourage small business owners in rural communities to take advantage of this,” Heesacker said, noting that the grant received by Farm to Family has helped free up capital for unforeseen costs down the road.
For more information about REAP or for help applying, contact your state’s Energy for Rural Development Coordinator.