Bangor, Maine, Apr 15, 2013 -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a series of changes to make it easier for agricultural producers and rural small businesses to apply for renewable energy and energy efficiency funding. USDA remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. Today’s announcement is one part of the Department’s efforts to strengthen the rural economy.
“These changes are intended to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses throughout America,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “They will streamline and simplify the application process and give businesses more time to do what they do best: innovate, create jobs and serve their rural communities.”
USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel said, “USDA Rural Development constantly looks for ways to make our application process more
user friendly for our Maine businesses and agricultural producers. I am pleased that the implementation of this more simplified application process will allow potential Maine applicants, interested in our REAP funding, save time in the application process so they can concentrate on running successful businesses.
The proposed changes would affect applications for loans and grants through USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). They would:
• Reduce paperwork, especially for projects under $80,000;
• Implement a more objective and uniform system to score applications;
• Authorize funding for refurbished and retrofitted renewable energy systems;
• Reduce certain reporting requirements;
• Establish a quarterly application period for applicants seeking only guaranteed loans. This change is intended to make the program more appealing to lenders and to ensure that funds are available year-round.
REAP is one of USDA’s most popular renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. From the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill through the end of Fiscal Year 2012, REAP funded more than 6,800 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, feasibility studies, energy audits and renewable energy development assistance projects.
Last fiscal year USDA Rural Development assisted 13 Maine agricultural producers and rural small businesses for a total of $375,483 invested in the state through the REAP Program. For example Potts Harbor Lobster received a REAP Grant in the amount of $11,750 for the purchase and installation of a renewable energy Solar Photovoltaic system for its lobster wharf in Harpswell, making it Maine’s first solar commercial working waterfront. Installation of the system is expected to produce over 13,000 kWh of clean reliable electricity a year and reduce its carbon footprint by 20K pounds of CO2 annually.
USDA is accepting comments on the proposed rule through June 11, 2013. For details on how to submit comments, or for additional information, see Page 22044 of the April 12 Federal Register, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-04-12/pdf/2013-07273.pdf. For more information contact USDA Rural Development Energy Coordinator Beverly Stone at (207) 990-9168.
USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor. There are 65 employees working to deliver the agency’s Housing, Business, and Community Programs, which are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, and farmers, and improve the quality of life in rural Maine. Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA Rural Development's web site at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/me.