Energy grants

The Renewable Energy for America Program, or REAP, has helped to build renewable energy projects for farms and rural businesses across Oregon, including a 1.3-megawatt solar array developed by the Umatilla Electric Cooperative in 2016.

Northwest farms and businesses are getting $324,060 in grants from USDA Rural Development to help reduce their energy costs by becoming more efficient and installing renewable energy systems.

Funding was announced on June 11 and comes from the Renewable Energy for America Program, or REAP. Oregon applicants received eight grants totaling $266,490; Idaho applicants received five grants totaling $40,589; and Washington applicants received two grants totaling $16,981.

Nationwide, the USDA awarded $1 million through REAP across 17 states and Puerto Rico. The single largest grant of $100,000 went to the University of Oregon, which is working with the Seattle-based nonprofit Spark Northwest to assist 40 small businesses — primarily agricultural producers — in installing solar, wind, hydro, thermal and biogas energy projects.

"Business owners know that energy costs can consume a large portion of their budget," said John Huffman, Oregon state director for USDA Rural Development. "These grants will not only help rural entrepreneurs and farmers improve their bottom line by saving on their utility bills, but also help improve the rural economy by retaining and creating jobs."

REAP grants are divided into two categories. The Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvement Program awards money for renewable energy developments and efficiency improvements, while the Energy Audit and Renewable Energy Development Assistance Program allows recipients to conduct energy audits and provide assistance for farms and rural businesses.

In Oregon, blueberry farm Sandau Enterprises in Salem will use a $20,000 grant to install a 71-kilowatt solar array, offsetting 94% of the farm's energy use and reducing energy bills by $6,930 per year.

Another $80,000 went to the Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative, which serves 23,000 members in Eastern Oregon including Baker, Grant, Harney and Union counties. The co-op plans to conduct energy audits and solar energy site analysis at 25 local farms and businesses.

In all, REAP grants are expected to help nearly 70 Oregon producers and business owners. Idaho grants will go toward installing solar arrays, LED lights and energy efficient windows at individual businesses. The two grants in Washington are dedicated to building solar arrays with a combined capacity of 23.7 kilowatts, saving a combined $1,581 a year in energy costs.

Congress has appropriated $50 million for REAP grants and loan guarantees in fiscal year 2019. USDA will announce additional awards for applicants in the coming months.

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