While some members of Congress seem to think that spending federal dollars on local projects is a bad thing, hundreds of farmers and rural business owners are eagerly taking the opportunity to improve their operations through federal clean energy loans and grants totalling more than $30 million. The funds, administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will pay for 516 projects that install renewable energy equipment and improve energy efficiency at agricultural operations.
USDA and Rural Renewable Energy
The USDA has already been making waves through its AgStar program, which promotes the installation of biogas equipment at livestock farms. The new round of loans and grants is coming through the agency’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP – clever, right?). REAP expands the renewable energy field in agriculture to include a large number of solar installations, along with wind turbines, biomass and even geothermal. The projects also include a large number of equipment upgrades to improve energy efficiency, convert old diesel equipment to electric and install new lighting.
Grain Dryers – Who Knew?
One big item in the list of 516 projects turns out to be the replacement of old grain dryers with more energy efficient equipment. If you’re a city person like me you probably never though much about grain dryers, but apparently they can take quite a big chunk out of a farm’s utility bills. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, grain dryers are used primarily for shelled corn that is stored on site. In the past, natural gas and other fossil fuels were used for hot-air drying, but more modern equipment relies on ambient air temperature. NSAIS also notes that solar technology may be a good alternative for grain drying at small and medium sized farms.
Image: Wind turbines on a farm by bobistraveling on flickr.com.