The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Karama Neal on July 13 announced that USDA is making $21 million in technical assistance grants available through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses access federal funds for renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements.
“The technical assistance grants I am announcing today will provide hands-on support to farmers, ranchers and rural small business owners seeking federal funds for renewable energy systems, like wind and solar, and energy efficiency measures,” Neal said in a press release. “These investments not only help producers and small businesses lower energy costs, but also access new markets and strengthen their operations.”
Eligible recipients for these grants include state, Tribal or local governments; colleges and universities; electric cooperatives and utility companies; and for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Recipients may use the funds to:
· Help rural agricultural producers and small business owners apply for REAP funding.
· Provide information on how business owners and agricultural producers can improve the energy efficiency of their operations and use renewable energy technologies and resources.
· Conduct required energy assessments and audits.
· Help agricultural producers and small business owners plan, build or develop renewable energy or energy efficiency projects.
Projects eligible for funding can be located in eligible rural areas in the 50 states, Puerto Rico and U.S. territories, USDA said.
This announcement is part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda and the Bidenomics strategy to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, drive over $500 billion in private-sector manufacturing investments, create jobs, and build a clean-energy economy to tackle the climate crisis and make communities more resilient. REAP is also part of the Justice40 Initiative, which is advancing environmental justice by ensuring that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments reach disadvantaged communities that are marginalized and overburdened by pollution and underinvestment.
USDA said it will “give funding priority to applicants proposing to assist disadvantaged communities, applicants pursuing projects using underutilized technologies and applicants seeking grants under $20,000.”
The Department also encourages interested applicants to contact their USDA Rural Development state office.
For this round of REAP funding, paper or electronic applications must be received by the USDA RD State Office (RDSO) of the State where the project is located to be eligible for funding under this grant opportunity by Aug. 15.
During a 2022 visit to Puerto Rico, Dr. Rachid Darbali-Zamora, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories met with community members and discussed some of the challenges associated to deploying different renewable energy technologies in remote rural regions of the island. Photo Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories.
By Sandia National Laboratories
As the world shifts towards using more sustainable energy alternatives, distributed wind can become a key player, supporting electricity generation in communities. Distributed wind systems, coupled with solar and energy storage, have the potential to significantly enhance the renewable energy mix. These solar and wind hybrid microgrids have the potential to promote energy independence, environmental consciousness and increase community resilience.
Hybrid microgrids can empower communities by providing a resilient and sustainable energy solution that can operate independently from the main grid during instances when grid power is not readily available. By combining wind, solar and energy storage technologies, hybrid microgrids enable communities to generate electricity on-site. The Wind Hybrid Integration Platform (WHIP) is a three-year Department of Energy project funded through the Wind Energy Technology Office that started last October. This project is led by Dr. Rachid Darbali-Zamora of the Renewable Energy and Distributed Systems Integration program at Sandia National Laboratories. The objective of the project is primarily to design and develop a Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS), considering wind, solar and energy storage assets. The main research is to identify advantages that distributed wind can provide that have not been looked at. The locations we are evaluating are in Puerto Rico, Alaska and Texas. Using Sandia National Laboratories’ Power Hardware-in-the-Loop platform at the Distributed Energy Technology Laboratory, we plan on testing these controls with actual wind turbine power converters.
Remote villages in Alaska, such as St. Mary’s and Kotzebue, are examples of communities that have tapped into the power of distributed wind. These Alaskan communities face unique energy challenges, often relying on expensive diesel generators. However, distributed wind systems are transforming the energy landscape, harnessing the region’s abundant wind resources. The integration of solar and energy storage with these wind systems provides a stable and reliable renewable energy power supply, reducing the dependency on costly and carbon-intensive diesel. These hybrid microgrids offer Alaskan communities a sustainable solution, ensuring continuous access to electricity.
In a similar manner, Puerto Rico, an island still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017, could benefit from distributed wind. The island’s vulnerable centralized power grid suffered extensive damage during the hurricane, leaving many communities without electricity for months. In response, Puerto Rico has embraced the implementation of renewable energy, like solar. By integrating distributed wind with solar and energy storage, some communities can fortify its energy infrastructure, enhancing resilience and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Distributed wind power, together with solar and energy storage, can ensure a more resilient and sustainable power supply.
The journey towards a sustainable future requires collaborative efforts and innovative solutions. Distributed wind power, in combination with solar and energy storage, has the ability to empower communities, enabling them to forge a path toward energy independence, environmental sustainability and enhanced resilience. As the renewable energy technology continues to evolve, the potential of distributed wind power combined with solar and energy storage remains a promising solution, ensuring a brighter and cleaner future.
The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED) on July 14 announced that DWEA was among 67 winners in the first phase of the $6.7 millionEnergizing Rural Communities Prize. This prize challenges individuals and organizations to develop partnership and financing strategies to support efforts in rural or remote communities to improve their energy systems and advance clean energy demonstration projects. Each of the 67 winners will receive $100,000, in-kind-mentorship services, and eligibility to compete in phase two of the prize to win an additional $200,000.
DWEA’s proposal was to establish the AgWind technical assistance project which will provide free basic distributed wind feasibility analyses and developer/dealer referrals for communities, organizations, companies, and individuals to help accelerate DW (distributed wind) deployment. AgWind will establish selection criteria, procedures, and consultant fees; create an online feasibility tool combining web interfaces with wind resource and geospatial data together with financial evaluation algorithms; and form a referral system and financing references. AgWind’s trial services will utilize quantifiable data to showcase the potential for distributed wind investment and cost savings for potential customers, specifically targeting Justice40 communities.
As explained by Heather Rhoads of eFormative Options who will manage the project, DWEA plans “to work with communities in regions with good wind resources to provide services pre-qualifying sites for further development where requested, and in parallel pursue additional project funding for AgWind’s free services.” The first qualifying area for an AgWind pilot will be Sinton, Texas, and other rural areas around Corpus Christi. “Then we want to expand quickly to focus on other rural communities across Texas as well as Massachusetts, California, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and other states with high DW potential,” Rhoads said.
Through an established team of independent wind energy experts serving as paid AgWind consultants, DWEA aims to assist at least 30 potential projects this year. Justice 40 opportunities are a key program element, addressing equity and ensuring clean energy access for all. “Ultimately, we’re launching AgWind to empower communities to embrace clean energy, reduce energy burdens, and strengthen economic development,” Rhoads said.
DWEA will apply for Phase 2 funding of $200,000 next year to expand AgWind, DWEA President Michael Bergey said.
The Energizing Rural Communities Prize is part of DOE’s $1 billion Energy Improvements in Rural or Remote Areas (ERA) Program, managed by OCED. The prize program is a relatively new DOE contractual tool to support small, short timeframe innovative projects that can lead to new products, services, and business models. It has been used extensively by DOE’s Solar Energy Technology Office. The ERA funding was made available through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to demonstrate new ways to improve the resilience, reliability, and affordability of energy systems in communities across the country with 10,000 or fewer people.
The Energizing Rural Communities Prize has two tracks: a partner track that is designed to create and strengthen the necessary networks for implementing energy projects; and a finance track to support new and innovative efforts to access capital or to develop community ownership models to finance energy projects.
The ERA Program also supports rural and remote American communities through technical assistance, grants, and cooperative agreements. Learn more about the ERA Program on theOCED website.
Welcome to the August (and part of September) Congressional recess, I guess. Congress left town last week with a load of work still to do, ranging from appropriations to the Farm Bill re-authorization. It’s going to get very interesting when they get back.
The challenge is the House majority is deeply fractured. The ag appropriations bill on July 27 had to be pulled at the last minute because of intra-party infighting over its content. So, we’ll have to see what September brings. Many are betting on another government shutdown.
So that’s the noise in D.C. of late. The upshot is while Congress has its many issues, we are still hard at work. There is always action, sometimes we go on offense, sometimes defense, or both.
Some examples: we are talking to lots of Congressional Members and their staff to fend off the House ag appropriations proposed $500 million in cuts to REAP, the elimination of cost-share grants in REAP, as well as $1 billion in cuts to New ERA (the rural electric coop program from the IRA). We worked with Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Reps. Abagail Spanberger (D-VA) and David Valadao (R-CA) on their very positive REAP “marker” legislation for the upcoming Farm Bill. We are also communicating with the Treasury Department regarding IRA implementation issues. And we’re developing a new effort with other like-minded distributed renewable leaders for a longer-term strengthening of our respective DER market segment.
Please keep in mind that Congressional Members head home this time of year, not just to vacation and be with their families but to do retail politicking with folks in their Districts. You’ll see them pop up in coffee shops and at community events. My request to you—monitor their whereabouts and if you have a chance, please talk to them and their staff about distributed wind power benefits and our policy issues. And when you do, ping me a quick note. Knowledge is power!
Hope you are enjoying the summer and looking forward to more success in the weeks ahead!
Dangerous, record-breaking heat across the globe is bringing home the real impact of our continued use of fossil fuels. But also in the news is the impressive surge of domestic investments in clean energy and storage manufacturing, as well as project deployment, stemming from federal legislation enacted less than a year ago. Story after story, many coming from “red” states, tell the tales of new factory investments in wind, solar, and storage, including the jobs that will ensue. President Biden’s and Congressional Democrats’ big bet on aggressive industrial policy to change the trajectory of CO2 emissions in the U.S. and build huge new clean energy industries appear to be paying off. It may well be the new jobs, and not the heat, that most effectively help erode Republican opposition to all thing’s climate change. One can hope.
Meanwhile, the work at DWEA continues. We were not successful in getting distributed wind inserted in the $7 billion EPA “Solar for All” program, but we did accomplish having a reserve fund for USDA REAP included in a “marker bill” that will help influence the critically important 2023 Farm Bill. We have yet to learn whether our request to the Treasury Department to allow the use of imported towers for distributed wind projects up to 1 MW to qualify for the Sec. 48 10-percent domestic content bonus. On the horizon is a multi-technology campaign to close the gap between the Sec. 48 and the Sec. 25D (residential) tax incentives.
So please, stay out of the heat but do publicize even your smallest business accomplishments in order that your voice is added to the good news on clean energy jobs and investment growth. You will be helping yourself and DWEA’s ongoing mission.