USDA accepting REAP applications, launches new energy website
The USDA is accepting applications for its Rural Energy for America Program. The program is designed to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy consumption and costs. While it is not specifically designed to benefit biorefining operations, biodiesel plants and other biorefinery operations that fit the definition of a rural small business under the program language are eligible to apply.
In 2012, the USDA has just over $25 million available to fund REAP activities. According to the department, that funding level is expected to support at least $12.5 million in grants and approximately $48.5 million in guaranteed loan program level awards. The USDA is currently accepting applications under four different components of the REAP program. Applications for grant and combination grant and guaranteed loan projects related to renewable energy systems and efficiency improvements will be accepted through March 30. Applications for those seeking only guaranteed loans for renewable energy systems and energy efficient improvements will be accepted through June 29. The REAP program can also fund renewable energy feasibility study applications. The applications for that program are also due March 30. Finally, applications for energy audits and renewable energy development assistance must be submitted by Feb. 21.
Projects supported by the REAP program include those related to the switch to renewable energy for heat, electricity or fuel. Energy efficiency projects are also eligible for funding. Examples of eligible projects include those that would replace pieces of equipment with energy-efficient models, or lighting or insulation improvements. Awards can also be made for fuel switching activities. For example, certain biorefineries could be eligible to receive awards to support the switch to a biomass boiler, or to implement onsite solar energy generation. The program can also benefit eligible small businesses involved in biofuel distribution. In 2011, REAP supported the installation of 266 ethanol blender pumps.
While the USDA has several funding programs that either directly or indirectly benefit those in the biorefining industry, it hasn’t always been easy to access application announcements for these programs. The USDA recently improved that process with the launch of its new energy website.
According to USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager, the new site should streamline the process to access information about USDA funding opportunities. The new website also provides potential applications and members of the public with easy access to program information, energy efficiency data, and renewable energy data.
One component of the new website, titled “Energy Programs,” allows users to search for USDA programs and funding opportunities that specifically relate to their operations and goals. For example, when users search for programs related to commercialization activities, the Energy Programs tool directs them to a program housed within the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which provides financial support opportunities for the development of biofuels and biobased product technologies. From there, users can easily determine if applications are being accepted for that particular program.