Bosque County, Texas, Mar 20, 2012 -- As many U.S. farmers and rural business owners are discovering, renewable energy is the new cash crop of the 21st century. Energy efficiency improvements are a useful tool for increasing business productivity while reducing costs. By investing in energy efficient equipment, agricultural producers and rural small businesses can enjoy savings and increased reliability for years to come.
USDA Rural Development provides financial assistance in the form of grants and guaranteed loans to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to purchase renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements through the department’s Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) . REAP offers funds for farmers, ranchers and rural small business owners to purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy-efficiency improvements.
“USDA Rural Development is pleased with the success several Bosque County business owners have had with the REAP program,” said Paco Valentin, USDA Rural Development State Director. “When energy costs are reduced, American rural businesses become more competitive, allowing them to expand, create jobs and serve a larger rural population.”
Several businesses in Bosque County have recognized the benefits of energy efficient operations and have utilized funding from the REAP program in a variety of energy saving measures.
Mustang Dental Clinic installed a 9.0 kW photovoltaic solar system in 2011 with REAP funding. The new system produces on average 5000 watts of power, thus reducing the operating energy costs by 30% per month. The clinic will eventually be able to sell power back to the electricity company, thereby increasing the energy saved and further reducing the total cost of electricity used each month. “There is an extremely satisfying feeling watching the little blinking arrow pointing left on our meter, and knowing at that moment, your electricity isn’t costing a thing,” said Dr. Jason Hurley, Mustang Dental Clinic.
First National Bank of Bosque County also received a REAP grant to install an 8.24 kW photovoltaic solar system on the bank building. In the first six months of usage, the panels produced 5.948 kWh for a savings of about $325. “We estimate a five year payback on our investment and hope to increase the number of panels in the future,” said Brent Rickels, Senior Vice President of First National Bank of Bosque County.
Bosque County is also home to the most GREEN energy sustainable winery in Texas, Red Caboose Winery, which generates 100% of its own electricity. With the assistance of a grant through the REAP program, Red Caboose created an electric generating system with 44 photovoltaic panels and 2 inverters, which generate 9.9 kH of electricity. The system is tied to the grid, and any excess electricity is fed back onto the grid. “This funding further allows Red Caboose Winery to grow without the burden of higher overhead expenses," said Gary McKibben, Owner, Red Caboose Winery.
The winery uses 100% rainwater for irrigation in the vineyards, recycles 100% of their barrels, and composts 100% of their waste. It is the only winery in Texas to cool, refrigerate, and chill with geothermal. The winery is an ideal rural business for cogenerating electricity because of the peak demand July through August. The remainder of the year, electrical demand is low so excess electricity is fed to the grid. The winery’s goal is to balance demand and production of electricity so they have a "net zero" year-end result.
In 2011, 70 projects, totaling over $3.3 million, were funded throughout Texas under the REAP program. This funding was used for projects ranging from installation of solar and wind renewable energy systems, construction of new irrigation systems, upgrades to air conditioning and refrigeration units, and retrofitting poultry houses with more energy efficient equipment.
Grants can fund up to 25% of a project’s total eligible costs, and are limited to $500,000 for renewable energy projects or $250,000 for energy efficiency improvements. Grants as low as $2,500 for renewable energy projects, and $1,500 for energy efficiency projects will be considered. Guaranteed loans can fund up to 75% of a project’s total eligible costs, with a minimum of $5,000 and a maximum of $25 million.
All agricultural producers, including farmers and ranchers, who derive 50% or more of their gross income from agricultural operations are eligible. Businesses in a rural area which meets the Small Business Administration size standards can also apply. A private entity, a rural utility, and rural electric cooperatives are typically eligible, however non-profit and public bodies are not eligible.
Projects producing any form of energy; including heat, electricity or fuel may qualify for REAP funding. For more information on the program and to apply for funding, details are available on the USDA Rural Development website, http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_Reap.html. Applications are submitted to the USDA Renewable Energy Coordinator, Billy Curb, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 254-742-9775.