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On August 7, 2015, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $63 million in loans and grants to be distributed through its Rural Energy for American Program (REAP). The $63 million is divided among 264 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects throughout the nation, in primarily rural communities. In addition to creating jobs and improving local economies, the newly announced REAP projects are expected to either save or generate 207.8 million kilowatt hours (KWh) of energy. REAP funds may be used by agricultural producers and rural small businesses to improve energy efficiency or install renewable energy, including solar, wind, renewable biomass, hydroelectric, ocean energy, hydrogen, and geothermal. Applications for the next round of REAP grants are due by November 2, 2015.


 

On December 29, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published the final rule for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). REAP is intended to help mainly businesses, as well as some state, local, and tribal governments develop solar, wind, and biomass projects. This new rule will change the requirements for those applying for funding from the grant and loan guarantees for renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements in rural areas. There is now a three-tiered application process based on the total project cost for funding that reduces the technical reporting requirements of the previous system. The final rule also modifies scoring criteria for renewable energy and energy efficiency improvement projects, and creates deadline dates for grant and guaranteed loan applications. USDA estimates that this rule will have net cost savings of approximately ten million dollars as a result of decreased costs in program implementation. This final rule becomes effective on February 12, 2015.

 

 

In the past week, three significant letters have been sent to conferees charged with preparing in final the next five-year Farm Bill urging them to include an Energy Title that supports biofuel and renewable chemical development and production.


On November 1, 2013, 30 bi-partisan Members of Congress sent a letter to the leaders of the House Committee on Agriculture and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry urging Farm Bill conferees to include and make necessary investments in an Energy Title. The letter stresses the importance of this support for renewable energy to the nation and its rural economies. In particular, the letter urges continued support for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Biorefinery Assistance Program (BAP), and Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). A copy of the letter is available online.


On November 4, 2013, 14 bi-partisan Senators sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee urging Farm Bill conferees to include an Energy Title as passed by the Senate earlier this year, which would include $900 million in mandatory funding and support for biofuels and expanded support for renewable chemicals. In particular, the letter stresses the importance of the REAP, BAP, and BCAP programs, as well as the Biobased Markets Program. A copy of the letter is available online.


Also, on November 4, 2013, over 130 organizations signed a letter sent to the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees similar to the one sent by the 14 Senators described above. A copy of the letter is available online.