Renewable energy funds available for Iowa farmers, rural businesses

Farm and Food

In July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced more than $400 million available for farmers and rural business owners under the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). 

REAP, a farm bill program, provides financing for energy efficiency upgrades like insulation, lighting, and HVAC systems. Renewable energy systems like solar panels, anaerobic digesters, and wind turbines are also eligible. For both farmers and rural business owners, these systems can help cut energy costs—keeping money in rural economies across Iowa.

On the farm, producers could use the funds for electric, solar, or gravity pumps for irrigation pivots, or for switching from diesel to an electric irrigation motor to cut fuel costs. Another way to cut energy costs on the farm includes the installation of solar panels. Nationwide, the Census of Agriculture found 90,142 farms had solar energy production in 2017, a 60 percent increase from the 36,331 farms reported in the 2012 count. 

When consumers install “behind-the-meter” energy generation like solar, they save costs by using energy they produce and getting credits on their bill for the excess energy they send back to the grid—this is known as net metering. 

Net metering is critical for increasing adoption of renewable energy projects in Iowa because it allows consumer-generators to take control of their own energy costs. Strong net metering policy is key to empowering farmers, small business owners, and even schools, to slash their energy costs—allowing investment in the things that matter.

Unfortunately, net metering came under fire during the 2019 Iowa legislative session. House File 669 and its companion bill, Senate File 583, would slap fees exceeding $300 per year on consumer-generators who own solar panels. If passed, the legislation would significantly devalue investments in solar energy by increasing the amount of time it takes to pay back the cost of installation. Net metering is an important way to reduce economic pressure on small business and farmers.

To apply for REAP funding, call Iowa’s USDA Rural Development office at 515.284.4663 or visit this page.