by Enrico Villamaino
Farmers across America are set to receive $464 million from the USDA. In a press conference on Sept. 9, U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined how the funds will be administered.
The monies will be distributed via two existing USDA programs.
The Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for what are being called “climate-smart projects,” renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements. Vilsack said that REAP will distribute nearly $130 million – “the $128 million that’s being provided today represents 12 loans of $121.2 million, and 411 grants totaling a little over $7.4 million,” Vilsack said, pointing out that the grants are targeted at smaller agricultural operations and family farms. “The combination of these renewable energy projects and energy efficiency projects, will essentially save the equivalent of 391 million kilowatt hours of electricity, which is enough essentially to fuel and take care of over 35,000 homes.”
The remaining $335 million will be through the USDA’s Electric Loan Program (ELP.) The ELP provides financial support to maintain, expand, upgrade and modernize rural infrastructure. Established by the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, the ELP makes direct loans, loan guarantees, grants and other energy project financing to wholesale and retail electric utilities servicing rural areas. Vilsack said the ELP addresses larger projects to improve a large swath of electric lines.
“These projects will help to improve the efficiency of nearly 1,400, almost 1,500 miles of electric lines, which will increase their reliability and provide for a more resilient system,” Vilsack said. “Approximately $102 million is going to go towards the investment of ‘smart-grid’ technology.”
In choosing the programs’ recipients, Vilsack explained there is a formula-based selection process and that applicants are encouraged to apply multiple times. “It sort of ranks projects and applications on a set of criteria, it’s sort of a numbering system… We get, obviously, a lot of applications for this program and some of them get funded, and some of them are close to getting funded, so we provide some technical assistance so the next time we have another round of projects, they can re-apply.”
Vilsack added that none of this funding is dependent upon whether the proposed infrastructure bill currently being debated in Congress is enacted. “These projects are funded by our normal budget allocation passed by Congress. These announcements, like today’s, come as we end the fiscal year and begin a new one.” However, he then added, “Based on how the infrastructure bill is passed, it will determine how we fund more of these type of projects in the future and whether we have the resources to do it.”
The states with agricultural operations set to receive funding in the Country Folks readership area are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.
For more information visit usda.gov and rd.usda.gov/sites/default/files/reap_electricchart090821.pdf.