USDA on Thursday announced a series of loan guarantees and grants worth $68 million that will go to renewable energy and energy efficiency projects through the Rural Energy for American Program. The projects are intended to improve jobs and rural economic opportunities.
Secretary Vilsack made the announcement while in North Carolina. "These loan guarantees and grants will have far-reaching impacts nationwide, particularly in the rural communities where these projects are located," Vilsack said. "This is creating jobs, providing new economic opportunities and leading the way to a more secure energy future."
The investments will support 540 projects, including solar efforts, which coincide with President Obama's own annoucement on Thursday to support advancements in solar energy technologies.
Of the REAP awards, Vilsack said 240 projects are for solar investments of $5.2 million in grants and $55.3 million in loans.
The visit to North Carolina included a stop at Progress Solar, a 2012 REAP loan guarantee recipient which now produces enough solar energy to power 540 average-sized homes each year.
The Progress Solar site is a dual-use solar power plant and a working farm where a 10th generation farming family raises free range sheep and lambs. The project serves as a test site for herd management best practices on a solar farm, and the goal is to model future collaborative efforts that marry solar-energy production with agriculture production.
This is the seventh solar farm venture that Solar Progress' parent company, O2 Energies, has developed in North Carolina. (View a video of the Progress Solar farm project below)
"These rural energy programs are critical in strengthening small businesses across the country and helping to spur local economies and create jobs," said Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow. "Through these investments, farmers will be able to install energy efficiency upgrades to their operations to cut energy costs. They will be empowered to harness the energy potential of American grown agriculture – by developing innovative systems to fuel and grow their businesses."
The Rural Energy for America Program has helped nearly 4,000 farmers, ranchers and rural business owners lower their energy bills by installing renewable and energy efficient systems, Stabenow noted. It received considerable funding in the 2014 Farm Bill's energy title.