Rural Advocates: Restore Renewable Energy Money to Farm Bill

By Roz Brown, Public News Service (IA)

Farmers and small business owners who want to embrace renewable energy will not get any help from the federal government under the proposed farm bill headed to the U.S. House of Representatives this week. 

Funding for the Rural Energy Assistance Program has been eliminated in the current draft. 

The program has provided guaranteed grants or loans to purchase, install and construct renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements to non-residential buildings and facilities. 

Katie Rock, a policy associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, says the program also has funded renewable technologies that reduce energy consumption.

"So, the cost savings that are offered through these programs, once they can make these upgrades, can be substantial for farms and businesses enough that they can expand or hire more people to run their business," she stresses.

The farm bill is renewed every five years. The 2014 bill included $50 million a year in Rural Energy Assistance Program funding.

Rock notes that many farmers want to be more energy independent, but with farm income at its lowest point in 12 years, they can't tackle such projects without the loans or grants offered through Rural Energy Assistance Program.

"Especially right now in our farm economy, any creative way to finance these kinds of changes are a great asset to small businesses," she states.

Since 2008, more than 13,000 projects in all 50 states have received Rural Energy Assistance Program awards.

Rock says one of those was an Iowa farmer who used the funds to upgrade a turkey barn with LED lighting and benefited on two fronts.

"And not only was it a huge cost savings for them, but they noticed a difference in the health of the turkeys which they really didn't expect and can't really explain," she relates.

The current draft of the farm bill calls for possibly appropriating money for Rural Energy Assistance Program on an annual basis, meaning at best the funds for next year would be cut from $50 million to $20 million, and at worst, the program would be eliminated.

Farm bill alert

May 15: The House is set to vote early this week on their version of the farm bill. Call your representatives today and ask them to VOTE NO. More info can be found here.