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Renewable Energy

The USDA Is Helping Renewable Energy With A $464 Million Investment

Harold Mendoza

Winning the fight against rising emissions and the greenhouse gases is going to take a collective effort. It is one thing to set goals – like the pledge from the majority of the western world to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2050. But goals require a plan, and a plan requires action. Congress is focused on an infrastructure bill, which includes billions of dollars for environmentally-conscious national upgrades like an enhanced charging network for electric vehicles and increased renewable energy investment. This national effort takes work from all corners of the government, including a variety of government agencies, to do their part in working towards sustainability.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is one agency that has taken this responsibility seriously.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently made the announcement that the agency will soon be investing a total of $464 million into a variety of businesses—of all sizes—that will create and upgrade renewable energy infrastructure as well as lower energy costs for agricultural producers, businesses and rural communities. “We recognize that lowering energy costs for small businesses and agricultural producers helps to expand economic development and employment opportunities for people in America’s rural towns and communities,” Vilsack said in a statement.

Credit: Caspar Rae

The nearly half-billion-dollar investment will come through two programs under the USDA umbrella. One of the programs, the Rural Energy for America Program, assists agricultural producers and small businesses in financing the installation of renewable energy systems and as well as upgrades to existing systems, will receive $129 million. Since the renewables industry is still in its infancy relative to other energy sources, the technologies that harness solar and wind power are constantly benefitting from improvements to capacity and efficiency. Therefore, a business that has solar panels that are even five years old, could apply for funding under this program in order to install up-to-date hardware. 

Businesses of all sizes are expected to benefit from these investments. In Arizona alone, many of the recipients are smaller, often family-run operations.

For these recipients, even a few thousand dollars could make a difference. Forestdale Farm, a family business specializing in organic produce in Flagstaff, is using a nearly $6,000 grant to purchase a 1.7-kilowatt photovoltaic system. Each year, this investment will allow the farm to generate a quarter of a household’s annual energy demand while bringing in $3,000 in yearly savings. In Sierra Vista, Sonoita Sustainable Ranch will receive nearly $20,000 in funding for the purchase of a 36-kilowatt system, generating almost six households’ worth of energy as well as saving nearly $8,000 annually. 

Image courtesy of Natalie Faulk

The USDA investment is not limited to Arizona. Red Trail Energy LLC out of North Carolina is expected to receive a whopping $25 million for the construction of a carbon capture and storage operation at their existing ethanol manufacturing facility. This will allow the company to emit significantly less carbon into the atmosphere as a result of their ethanol operations, with reduction estimates of around 40 to 50 percent. In Mississippi, Gulf Coast Solar LLC will receive a $500,000 grant for use in energy efficiency improvements to three different wastewater treatment facilities. The improvements include installing fixed-tilt, ground-mounted solar photovoltaic equipment at each location, replacing anywhere from 57 to 107 percent of energy consumption at each.

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