“This funding will help spur investments in technologies that will reduce reliance on fossil fuels, conserve natural resources and help build a sustained renewable energy industry in rural America,” says USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“Support provided by USDA through these programs will not only benefit the environment, it will create green jobs and help America become more energy self-sufficient.”

Funding is available from four USDA Rural Development renewable energy programs authorized by the Food, Conservation & Energy Act of 2008 (the Farm Bill). USDA will accept applications for grants and loan guarantees in the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) for renewable energy and energy efficiency until June 30.

Eligible projects include installing renewable energy systems such as wind turbines, solar, geothermal, biomass, anaerobic digesters, hydroelectric, and ocean or hydrogen systems. Funding may also be used to purchase energy-efficient equipment, insulate and improve heating systems.

In the last fiscal year, REAP funded 1485 projects in 50 states.

Three other programs to support renewable energies

Vilsack says USDA will also accept applications for three other renewable energy programs:

  • Biorefinery Assistance Program: provides guaranteed loans to develop and construct commercial-scale biorefineries or to retrofit existing facilities using eligible technology for the development of advanced biofuels;
  • Repowering Assistance Program: designed to encourage use of renewable biomass as a replacement fuel source for fossil fuels used to provide process heat or power in the operation of eligible biorefineries; and
  • Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels: works to support and ensure expanding production of advanced biofuels by providing payments to eligible advanced biofuels producers.

Advanced biofuels are derived from renewable biomass (other than corn kernel starch) and include cellulose, sugar and starch, crop residue, vegetative waste material, animal waste, food and yard waste, vegetable oil, animal fat, and biogas (including landfill gas and sewage waste treatment gas). This program is part of achieving the administration's goal to increase biofuels production and use.

USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, administers and manages 40 housing, business and community infrastructure and facility programs through a national network of 6100 employees in 500 offices. Rural Development has an existing portfolio of US$134 billion in loans and loan guarantees.

Joint funding for biofuels

USDA and the Department of Energy (DoE) also jointly announced US$33m in funding for research and development of technologies and processes to produce biofuels, bioenergy and high-value biobased products.

“These projects will help advance the production of biofuels and related products,” says Cathy Zoi, DoE’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

“Supporting the development of sustainable and renewable biofuels is key to improving our energy security and addressing climate change.”

USDA and DoE will direct the joint funding at several types of projects which increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products.

The projects will create a diverse group of economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass, which will reduce GHG emissions by a minimum of 50%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“As the demand for energy rises, Americans need alternative, renewable energy sources,” adds Roger Beachy, USDA’s Chief Scientist.

“The innovation and technology that these projects develop will foster a sustainable domestic biofuels industry by broadening the nation's energy sources as well as improving the efficiency of renewable fuels.”