House cuts vital rural energy programs, their fate lies in the Senate

Guest Blog | May 27, 2011 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy

Contributors: Sam Gomberg, John Bonitz, Anne Blair


Disappointing news came out of the House of Representatives’ Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday concerning energy programs for America’s rural businesses and farms. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) were eliminated from the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill. REAP is the only federal program successfully helping farmers and rural small businesses fight high energy costs with energy efficiency and renewable energy systems. BCAP provides matching payments for materials sold to biomass conversion facilities and provides financial assistance to growers of renewable biomass crops.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has seen first hand how these programs positively impact rural communities in the Southeast by creating clean energy jobs, cutting energy bills, and helping to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources. As energy prices continue to rise across all sectors, it is incomprehensible that these programs would be eliminated.

These misguided budget cuts are likely to make it through the House of Representatives, but it’s far less certain in the Senate. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter which urges his fellow senators to maintain funding for these farm energy programs.  Please reach out to your senators and ask them join this letter as a cosigner by this Friday at noon.

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

REAP is a Farm Bill Energy Title program that provides grants and loan guarantees to rural businesses to reduce energy bills and boost revenue by improving the energy efficiency of their operations. They also use REAP to increase and diversify their income by building wind, solar, biomass, anaerobic digestion, geothermal and other clean energy projects on their land.

REAP also generates critically-needed business opportunities to spark job creation in rural areas of virtually every state in the country. It helps grow the domestic energy manufacturing supply chain, with thousands of businesses selling products and services for projects partially funded with REAP dollars. In all, the program is a good investment for America.

Since the beginning of the REAP program in 2003, it has a strong track record of success and consistent high demand among rural communities. To date, REAP has helped producers and businesses finance over 6,000 new clean energy and energy efficiency projects across the country, with nearly 3,000 of those projects from last year alone. Here in the Southeast, more than $17 million in REAP grants has stimulated over $52 million in private investments.

A solar system on Sequatchee Cove Farm in Tennessee installed by EETN. Photo Credit: Bill Keener, Owner Sequatchie Cove Farm
A solar system on Sequatchee Cove Farm in Tennessee installed by EETN. Photo Credit: Bill Keener, Owner Sequatchie Cove Farm

Not only would these cuts be harmful to American farmers and rural small business owners, but also to the thousands of small businesses that install these energy efficiency and clean energy systems. Efficient Energy of Tennessee (EETN) is a company located in East Tennessee that has installed many solar systems with REAP grants.  “Through my experience in REAP grant writing, $677,052 in REAP grant assistance has leveraged $4,054,880 in private investment and 745 kW of solar generated electricity in rural Tennessee” says Mary Shaffer Speight, Community Relations and Grant Specialist for EETN.  Harvey Abouelata, VP Sales and Marketing says that “cutting the REAP program would be a devastating blow not only to rural America, but also to the renewable energy industry as a whole. I cannot see the logic in eliminating an energy program to the food growers of our country, especially when unemployment is highest in our rural communities. We should be building on our energy independence and making our food suppliers stronger.  Hopefully this bill will not go any further than this subcommittee.”

Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, says that “all agricultural producers and all Americans benefit when we have cleaner, homegrown energy. We’ve already seen with the thousands of projects that have been supported by REAP that it helps farmers modernize their operations and develop new income streams from renewable energy. This action would be a serious setback to national energy independence and rural economic development.”

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), created as part of the energy title in the 2008 Farm bill, is also an important component in supporting local energy development across the region and the country. New energy crops need to be developed, planted, and integrated sustainably across the landscape, but the costs and risks to the first bioenergy developers of doing so will be significant. The BCAP program was intended to help reduce those risks and help landowners get started establishing, harvesting, and developing crops and harvesting systems for sustainable bioenergy development today and in the future.

The initial implementation of the BCAP program in 2009 caused numerous problems, which created some alarmism about the effectiveness of such policies, but the final BCAP rule fixed those problems and as such has the potential to play a significant role in supporting local energy production, rural economic development and supporting farmers. Assuring sufficient, sustained funding levels for the program will be critical in making a real difference in helping meet the goals of the renewable fuel standard and other promising, regionally appropriate bioenergy production.

While it’s understandable that the federal deficit needs to be addressed, completely cutting off federal funds to these Farm Bill energy programs is not the solution.  These programs not only advance the economies of America’s rural communities, but also the growing clean-tech and energy efficiency industries that are creating American jobs and American-made products. Our rural communities are struggling with the highest unemployment rates and losing business to foreign outsourcing. This proposed action would only exacerbate these problems. But there is still time to act. Please contact your Senators and tell them to continue investing in America’s clean energy future by reinstating funding for these programs in 2012 and beyond.

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