Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Pros & Cons Of Energy Grants

I sat in on an early-morning session today titled "The Dollars and Cents of Sustainable Production." Purdue's Roberto Lopez (pictured at left) and Cornell's Neil Mattson (right) led the session, which eventually led to an interesting audience discussion about the pros and cons of government energy grants.

By now, you might be familiar with the Rural Energy For America Program (REAP), one of the biggest federal grant programs in the United States. "Money is available from the Farm Bill passed a couple years ago," Mattson says. "The federal government put aside $150 million for improvements in energy."

You may have read about Pleasant View Gardens, the Loudon, N.H. grower that earned a $500,000 grant earlier this year to install a biomass boiler. Other growers who've taken the steps to earn grants recently are Neal Mast & Son Greenhouses ($50,000 for energy curtains), Wenke Greenhouses (for an energy-efficient boiler) and Green Circle Growers ($227,500 for a greenhouse retractable energy curtain).

Any grant money received is obviously a plus, but a few growers in the audience shared their personal stories about the excessive time, energy and money invested in the grant application process. Plus, growers must make investments in energy systems before grant money will be given.

"How do you determine how much you'll be saving with your new system or program?" asks Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm. "You have to put an economic report together to show what kind of return you expect from your sustainable improvement. That takes time."

Peace Tree Farm's general manager spent about 90 hours crunching numbers and preparing the operation's application, Traven says. And the result was a $5,000 grant. So, Traven says, growers must consider more than filling out applications before the government will send you a check for $5,000, $10,000 or another helpful amount.

If you're considering applying for a grant from REAP, Lopez and Mattson suggest beginning preparations now. The deadline for loans or loan and grant combinations for 2009 is July 31, and it's unlikely a grower could make a sound argument for a grant with less that a few weeks to act.

For more information on REAP, click here.

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