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USDA unveils $145M REAP initiative to boost renewable energy in rural America

A field of solar panels with trees in the background
Anne Danahy
The University Area Joint Authority's solar installation in Centre County.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making $145 million in funding available for 700 loan and grant awards through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

The initiative aims to help rural small business owners and farmers lower energy costs, generate new income, and strengthen the resilience of their operations. Recipients will be able to acquire guaranteed loan financing and grant funding for solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal installations. They can also use the funding to purchase more energy efficiency equipment, like grain driers, HVAC systems, and refrigeration units.

Tracy Sabetta, a renewable energy advocate and consultant with Initiative Consulting, hopes the program will help normalize renewable energy in Appalachia and allow rural communities to pivot toward environmentally sustainable development.

“We have a recipe to change the way Appalachians see energy generation from an economic perspective, a public health perspective, and a jobs perspective,” Sabetta said. “And as we all know, once people see something working well and providing the benefits that are promised, it stops being scary and starts being normal.”

Sabetta said REAP will provide solutions for renewable energy and energy efficiency to those who need it most, and additional benefits of the program include cost savings and emissions reductions for farms and rural communities.

In order to ensure that the program benefits rural communities, REAP will only fund projects located in areas with populations of 50,000 residents or less. REAP will provide guarantees on loans up to 75%of total eligible project costs, grants for up to 50% of total eligible project costs, or a combined grant and loan guarantee funding up to 75% of total eligible project costs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will accept applications for farmer and small business energy loans from June 30 through September 30.
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Lane Moore