by Tina Casey: Whew, that was a close one. Funding for a wide-ranging renewable energy funding program that benefits farmers and other rural businesses somehow made it into the new Farm Bill intact…
and President* Donald Trump actually signed it into law earlier this month. Let’s take a look and see what’s going on!
The Renewable Rural Energy For America Program
The Department of Agriculture’s renewable energy grant and loan programs are pulled together under an initiative called REAP for Rural Energy for America Program.
REAP got its start in 2008 as an iteration of the agency’s Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements Program. That program was established in 2002 with an initial $23 million in funding for grants, loan guarantees, and combination packages.
As for why renewable energy programs are bundled into supporting legislation for the agriculture industry, the connection between food and energy is no mystery: it takes energy to run farm equipment.
That includes the obvious fuel for tractors, plows, harvesters and other rolling equipment, as well as the marketing potential for biofuel crops. Not so obvious to the non-farming public are energy-sucking systems like grain dryers.
During the Obama administration, REAP helped lay the groundwork for managing the carbon footprint of the US agriculture industry as well as fostering rural economic development through clean power projects.
We scroll so you don’t have to: you can find the part about REAP in Title IX, section 9007 of the Farm Bill, aka the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.
Saved By The Farm Bill!
Trump or no Trump, the Department of Agriculture is still quite clear on the benefits of clean power and energy efficiency as a matter of broad economic policy. Here’s USDA on the REAP mission:
This program helps increase American energy independence by increasing the private sector supply of renewable energy and decreasing the demand for energy through energy efficiency improvements. Over time, these investments can also help lower the cost of energy costs for small businesses and agricultural producers.
REAP is already laying plans for its 2019 round of funding. Eligible clean power projectsinclude:
- Biomass (for example: biodiesel and ethanol, anaerobic digesters, and solid fuels)
- Geothermal for electric generation or direct use
- Hydropower below 30 megawatts
- Small and large wind generation
- Small and large solar generation
- Ocean (tidal, current, thermal) generation
The REAP program also covers energy efficiency upgrades, including:
- High efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC)
- Cooling or refrigeration units
- Doors and windows
- Electric, solar or gravity pumps for sprinkler pivots
- Switching from a diesel to electric irrigation motor
- Replacement of energy-inefficient equipment
As Iowa Goes, So Goes REAP
Iowa usually comes in for a generous share of REAP funding, and a look at the state’s haul during a 2015 round illustrates the broad scope of clean tech supported by the program.
The 2015 round involved $63 million in loans and grants for 264 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide, of which 99 were located in Iowa.
USDA cited these Iowa projects in particular:
- Farmers Saving Bank in Wever is using a $16,062 REAP grant to help purchase and install solar array panels.
- B&A Mallory Corporation in Stuart is using a $15,873 REAP grant to help purchase and install six refrigeration units and a six-horsepower compressor for a locally owned grocery store.
- Riley Industrial Painting Inc. in Burlington is using a $5,995 REAP grant to replace current lighting fixtures with LED fixtures that use less energy.
- Duwa’s Auction Service LLC in Wellman is using a $13,280 REAP grant to help purchase and install solar array panels
About Those Non-Obvious Energy Sucking Systems
REAP is far from the only energy-related platform administered by USDA. The agency supports a considerable amount of energy R&D aimed at reducing costs, cutting carbon, and conserving energy.
Biofuel projects are one obvious example, but some of the work supported by USDA could have wide ranging consequences for tackling other problems, such as food waste for example.
Speaking of food waste, a USDA blog post dated September 11, 2018 took note of a new experimental solar powered system for drying pomace.
Pomace is the solid, wet byproducts of juice-making facilities including fruit and vegetable skins, seeds, stems and other fibers, and the US food industry produces massive amounts of it.
Pomace is packed with nutrients, so it would make a useful ingredient in prepared foods. However, being wet it has a relatively short shelf life. Currently some of it is added to livestock feed when in season, but much of it is discarded in landfills.
The idea behind the experiment (which is funded by the California Department of Agriculture, btw) would be to find an economical way to dry pomace, thereby extending its shelf life and finding new markets in the human food sector.
USDA makes the point that fossil fuels don’t make the cut:
…dehydrated pomace could be stored for use throughout the year. However, dehydration would require a lot of energy from heat—creating a demand for alternatives for better energy for heat, which currently comes mostly from natural gas.
Drying vast quantities of wet vegetable and fruit matter is much more complicated than it may seem, especially when the aim is to do it with 100% solar power. So far the project is in the proof of concept phase, beginning with prune and tomato pomace.
According to USDA, the new system actually seems to work just fine. A number of other juice makers in California are already interested in scaling up the technology.
CleanTechnica is reaching out to see if any of those have solidified into firm commitments, so stay tuned for more on that.