Revitalizing the Rural Energy for America Program
While rural areas by definition have fewer buildings, their energy use reduction potential at a national level should not be forgotten. For logical reasons, most building energy efficiency improvement initiatives have targeted urban areas where buildings are concentrated. As part of our nation’s commitment to becoming more energy independent, supporting efforts to improve the efficiency of buildings in diverse rural areas represents an opportunity to achieve those goals holistically. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) supports underserved rural small businesses and agricultural providers seeking to use renewable energy resources and cut energy waste in their operations. This program represents an important step in responding to the energy reduction challenges facing the US.
The Rural Energy for America Program
REAP, supported by the USDA, provides financial assistance to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to help purchase renewable energy systems, make energy efficiency improvements and perform renewable energy feasibility studies. Small businesses in rural communities, areas with fewer than 50,000 people, generally do not have the additional capital to invest in building upgrades, resulting in significant energy losses from inefficient buildings.
The renewable energy projects eligible for REAP funding span the clean energy spectrum, from geothermal heating to small hydroelectric power installations. In regards to building performance, REAP funding partially covers the costs of the entire building upgrade process – from the initial energy audit to the actual improvements. These building upgrades help farmers and businesses cut energy costs, improve efficiencies and increase their revenue. REAP grants cover up to 25 percent of a project's cost, with a $100,000 limit for energy efficiency projects.
The energy saved through thousands of energy projects made possible through the partial coverage of initial investments by REAP funding has not been calculated, yet even a handful of success stories gives insight to the program's impact. Here are a few examples:
- Illinois’ Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative (RECC) was able to construct a 900 kW wind turbine atop an abandoned coal mine, dubbed the “Gob Nob” by locals, that began generating power for 300 of RECC’s members beginning in March 2009.
- The Dove & Boar Farm in Hampton, Connecticut was able to install a 15.6 kW solar array on the rooftop of their main barn, supplying about 85% of the farm’s energy needs.
- The town of Elkton, South Dakota had been without a grocery store for several years until the owners of “Big Daddy’s Meats” decided to expand their small business to a full service store. With a REAP grant, they were able to realize their goal with the installation of a geothermal heat pump system that would save them enough money to make it possible.
Read about more stories in the Farm Energy Success Stories Report.
The Fight for Rural Sustainability
An impressive effort by rural organizations took place this April to save REAP from the sharp budget cuts it has experienced in recent years. 115 groups from across the US jointly called on Congress to renew the Farm Bill Clean Energy Programs. In a letter addressed to key senators and representatives, the organizations defended Farm Bill Energy programs such as REAP, which have benefitted almost 12,000 rural small businesses, agricultural producers, and advanced biofuel refineries since 2009. This letter was sent after it was announced that overall funding for REAP had been reduced to only $20.8 million for 2013.
A month after the efforts of the organizations seeking to save the REAP program, the total funding for the program increased to $60 million with an application deadline extension to May 31, 2013. Moreover, Obama’s budget for the 2014 Fiscal Year renewed its commitment to sustaining REAP, with $70 million in grants and $159.5 million in loan guarantees. These reinvestments into the energy efficiency of rural areas represent an important commitment to revitalizing rural America, which is often marginalized despite accounting for approximately 75% of the nation’s land area.