Renewable power has often been touted as a boon for rural areas. Not only does it provide a more efficient and reliable source of electricity for farm industry businesses, but it also provides economic benefits in the form of jobs in struggling areas and, in some cases, revenue from power production or lease payments for farmers who own land where renewable power facilities are located.

The federal government recently advanced the case for the marriage of renewable power and rural living when it announced generous grants and loans to rural businesses. This July, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer announced that 27 individuals and businesses in seven states had been selected to receive $6.9 million for renewable energy systems or to increase energy efficiency in farm and business operations. The funds are being provided under USDA Rural Development’s Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements Program.

The funding will support a variety of energy-production and energy-saving efforts. It includes $800,000 in loans and grants to construct an anaerobic digester on a dairy farm in Dorchester, Wis.; a $17,162 loan/grant package to buy and install energy-efficient reverse osmosis equipment and other related improvements for a maple syrup business in Sheldon, Vt.; and a combination package of $47,472 to replace two 20-plus-year-old dryers with new Grain Systems (GSI) dryers and a wet holding tank in Rose Hill, Iowa.

The 2002 Farm Bill established the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Loan and Grant Program to encourage agricultural producers and rural small businesses to install renewable energy systems and energy-efficient improvements. The program’s funding can support a wide range of technologies encompassing biomass (including anaerobic digesters), geothermal, hydrogen, solar, and wind energy as well as energy efficiency improvements.

USDA Rural Development’s mission is to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for rural residents. Rural Development has invested more than $90 billion since 2001 for equity and technical assistance to finance and foster growth in homeownership, business development, and critical community and technology infrastructure.