|Apr 10, 2012 --
Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has helped 512 rural small businesses and farmers install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).
On Tuesday, April 10, about 40 of those farmers and small business owners gathered in Mankato, Minn., to discuss the REAP program during a roundtable with Sen. Al Franken and Rural Development State Director Colleen Landkamer.
“The REAP program increases the bottom line for business owners and farmers and significantly reduces energy consumption,” Franken said. “It’s been a boost for rural Minnesota and it was great hearing firsthand from some of the people who have used the program.”
Franken and Sen. Tom Harkin have introduced legislation to reauthorize the REAP program. Adjustments to REAP in the bill include simplifying the application process, eliminating the “two-meter rule” and expanding start-up support.
The program has been extremely popular in Minnesota since its creation in the 2002 Farm Bill. A total of 674 projects have received funding in Minnesota since 2003, second only to Iowa.
“We need to ensure that our rural communities are strong and sustainable,” Franken said. “We can do that with renewable energy. The REAP program plays a key role.”
Roundtable participants shared several ideas on how to improve and strengthen REAP. Examples included making it easier for smaller firms to access funds, making application dates and funding levels uniform each year and eliminating excess paperwork for small-scale projects.
A couple of participants also shared success stories. Andrea Christoffer from Federated Rural Electric highlighted how her co-op has used several REAP grants to install a geo-thermal system, a wind turbine, and help area small businesses reduce energy consumption and cut costs after energy audits.
Wayne Knewtson of Knewtson Soy Products discussed the increase in production and energy efficiency in his operations after he used a REAP grant to purchase a new corn dryer.
“We can do a lot just by using the energy that’s right in our backyard,” Landkamer said during the roundtable. “Rural energy results in rural jobs.”