All the hype over the Solyndra collapse has got me thinking. Most of the criticisms of the Solyndra collapse have focused on the quantity of money, but by now it’s clear that these funds were a tiny fraction of the public dollars that have actually been spent successfully, helping boost our national security with renewable energy, and helping boost our economy with innovation and efficiency.
There are many excellent, commendable solar projects that have also received taxpayer support. Many of these projects have been supported by a USDA program called REAP, or Rural Energy for America Program. In SACE’s five-state territory (FL, GA, NC, SC, TN), REAP has provided $5.4 million in grants for 91 solar projects, leveraging an additional $16.5 million in private funds (special thanks to Environmental Law and Policy Center for tracking these data).
Unfortunately, the REAP program is at risk of being eliminated. In fact, it was on the chopping block before the Solyndra debacle. And now an oil-state Senator is working to kill the program.
In the Southeast region, here are a few great examples of REAP solar projects – examples that show the value of the program:
- Albany, Georgia pecan farmer Trey Pippin first installed a 200kW solar photovoltaic system to offset his electric costs for irrigating pecan trees. Pippin saw the light and decided to expand his solar investments. Pippin says “We farm pecans and we farm photons.” He now has 4.2MW of PV powering his 1,700 acres of irrigated pecan trees.
- North Carolina beef cattle farmer, Larry Baxter, installed solar photovoltaic panels to run the pump to fill a water tank for cattle in a remote pasture, enhancing his overall sustainability of producing beef on grass.
- Tally Ho Dairy, Goat Lady Dairy, and Chapel Hill Creamery installed solar water heating to reduce their propane bills, reducing the carbon footprint of small milk and cheese-making operations, and cutting their use of a fossil fuel derived from imported oil.
Additionally, Down to Earth Energy (DTE, which we featured in a blog last month) is a SACE partner that produces biodiesel from waste grease from Atlanta area restaurants and businesses. DTE has received two REAP awards—one to manufacturer biodiesel from waste grease which they supply to local fleets, and the other for 130kW solar panels that generates electricity to power the biodiesel operation. They also sell electricity back to the grid, displacing coal-fired electricity and helping pay for the cost of installing the solar panels. It is truly a shining example of sustainability in Georgia.
The REAP program is about much, much more than just solar. REAP has helped farmers and small businesses conduct energy audits, feasibility studies, energy efficiency upgrades, and renewable energy equipment installations including wind power, solar power, anaerobic digesters, and bioenergy. Here are more examples of projects that have really made a difference:
- North Carolina’s Metrolina Greenhouses installed a high efficiency, low emission biomass heating systems to slash their natural gas bills while keeping more of their money in the local economy.
- Piedmont Biofuels LLC of Pittsboro, NC – who make biodiesel out of waste vegetable oil – got a REAP grant of $12,500 to cover a fraction of the cost of a methanol recovery system, improving their efficiency, and reducing their input costs.
- Poultry farms have gotten more energy efficient: In Carnesville, Ga., a poultry grower received a $7,198 REAP grant for house upgrades that resulted in 49 percent savings in propane usage. In Cumming, Ga., a $9,037 REAP grant to a poultry grower delivered an 18 percent reduction in propane usage.
The beauty of all these REAP grant-supported projects is that they leverage more than $3 private dollars for every $1 of public funds, and they create or save jobs in the rural economy, while saving energy, and cleaning the air.
As our elected decision-makers struggle to cut the Federal budget, they’d be making a mistake to cut good, job-creating, energy security programs like REAP.