Also published in the Sheridan County Journal Star
Agricultural producers and rural small business owners looking to improve their energy efficiency or install clean energy infrastructure can receive financial support via the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).
Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, this program provides grants and guaranteed loans for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements. The deadline to apply for grants is March 31.
Farm to Family, a new cooperative grocery store in Hay Springs, Nebraska, is one such rural business that took advantage of REAP to improve its energy efficiency. Jessica Heesacker, who organized the effort to open the store, noted a REAP grant was one of many that helped turn her community’s vision into a reality.
The store was in need of upgraded coolers to replace the 50-year-old models previously used in the space. With REAP funds, Heesacker was able to purchase three energy-efficient coolers for the store’s deli counter and produce aisle.
Like other recipients, Farm to Family is located in an eligible rural area, defined as having a population of 50,000 people or less. Farmers and ranchers, on the other hand, must prove that more than 50 percent of their annual gross income is generated by their agricultural operation to apply.
Heesacker noted the success of her application was due, in part, to good planning. In addition to support from her local Rural Development office, she worked with an energy auditor to identify opportunities for energy efficiency improvements and gather bids for equipment–two steps required as part of the application process. An energy audit also provided an overview of potential annual savings.
“These steps combined helped us identify what we could and should do,” Heesacker said.
REAP grants and loans are available for projects of various sizes. Grants may cover up to 25% of eligible project costs, and guaranteed loans may cover up to 75% of eligible costs. Loan applicants must work with a lender that is interested in participating in the program.
“I would highly encourage small business owners in rural communities to take advantage of this,” Heesacker said, noting the grant Farm to Family received helped free up capital for unexpected costs down the road.