Federal Funds Help Small Towns and Businesses Harness Renewables

Increasing numbers of small town governments and businesses are choosing to power themselves with renewable energy, and many of these projects are aided by government-guaranteed loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

One such project is a new solar array in Monroe, N.Y., being constructed by OnForce Solar based in Bronx, N.Y, with All Bright Electric of West Nyack, N.Y. as the electrical and general contractor. The 2-megawatt (MW), direct-current (DC) system is expected to save the Town of Monroe about $5 million over the life of the system, said Charles Feit, OnForce’s CEO.

“The system is being built on a capped landfill that’s been closed for a few decades, and there was nothing else that could have been done with it,” Feit said. “This is really the best use for the land, and the solar array will cover 100 percent of the energy for the Town of Monroe’s facilities, including the police department and the town hall.”

OnForce Solar and All Bright Electric completed a similar project for the Town of Clarkstown, N.Y., a 2.4-MW landfill conversion into a solar array, said Jim Johannemann All Bright Electric’s president. The installation was awarded the New York State Society of Professional Engineers Project of the Year Award in 2015, Feit said. Many more such projects are in the pipeline.

The Town of Monroe’s solar array is being financed by a Greater Hudson Bank loan to All Bright Electric, backed by the USDA, as part of the agency’s national Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) for renewable energy and energy efficient projects, said Richard Mayfield, New York State Director for USDA Rural Development in Syracuse, N.Y. For eligible loans that are $5 million or less, the USDA will guarantee 80 percent of the loan, and for larger loans, the agency will guarantee 75 percent.

“As the U.S. works toward the goal of energy independence, we’re committed to the growth of solar and other renewable energy sources,” Mayfield said.

The USDA is also looking into helping to fund digesters that produce energy from waste products—“anything that has caloric value,” he said.

Greater Hudson Bank is making a niche out of making loans for the construction of commercial solar array projects, said Anthony Pili, director of strategic planning and solar lending specialist, based in White Plains, N.Y. The bank works with both the USDA and the SBA for many of its loans.

“These commercial projects are really blossoming,” Pili said. “It’s good for the bank because it helps us further diversify our loan portfolio, and we’re also doing good in the community.”

About the Author

Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert has more than three decades of experience writing about the construction industry, and her articles have been featured in the Associated General Contractor’s Constructor magazine, the American Fence Association’s Fencepost, the...

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