Skip to content

Bipartisan Bill Could Bolster Renewable Energy In Rural US

The federal government has big plans for renewable energy in rural America. In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would provide nearly $11 billion in grants and loans to help rural energy and utility providers bring clean energy to their communities. The USDA called it the “single largest investment in rural electrification” since President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act into law in 1936.

A couple of months later, a trio of lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill to improve and modernize the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which provides grants and loans to farmers and rural businesses who want to make energy efficiency improvements and gain more access to renewable energy systems, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Photo Courtesy Environmental Law & Policy Center  

The bipartisan bill, called the REAP Modernization Act, was introduced in July by U.S. Rep. David G. Valadao of California, Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota.

According to a press release from the office of Rep. Valadao, the REAP Modernization Act aims to do the following:

  • Increase the available cost share for REAP grants.
  • Increase the small project grant limit and the combined grant/loan guarantee limit.
  • Streamline the application process.
  • Improve outreach, technical assistance, and education.
  • Allow agricultural producer cooperatives and rural electric cooperatives to apply for financial assistance on a case-by-case basis.
  • Establish a study on the dual use of farmland for energy production and traditional farming.
  • Make the reduction of greenhouse gases a “more integral part” of the REAP mission.
  • Establish a reserve fund for underutilized technologies. 

The bill has special significance for Valadao, a lifelong dairy farmer. 

“As a lifelong dairy farmer, I know our farmers and producers are always looking for ways to use new technology to be more efficient and act as responsible stewards of our environment. …,” he said in the press release. “This bill makes it easier for rural small businesses and farmers to take advantage of this program and lower their costs by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency.” 

Spanberger also has close ties to the agricultural community as a member of the House Agriculture Committee and ranking member of the Conservation, Research, and Biotechnology Subcommittee. In a press statement, she said she’s “heard directly” from Virginia farmers about the benefits of REAP, though the program can also be improved.

Video Courtesy FarmRaise

“We need to take more steps to lower costs for our farmers, producers, and rural communities when they’re making smart investments in clean energy and energy storage,” Spanberger said. “That’s why I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort to cut red tape and lower energy costs.”

The REAP Modernization Act won the backing of a coalition that includes the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), food producer Organic Valley, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

In a July 27 press release, the coalition called the bill “a good first step toward reauthorizing and improving the rural energy program as part of the 2023 Farm Bill.”

Photo Courtesy Environmental Law & Policy Center 

“REAP delivers for family farms and rural small businesses,” Andy Olsen, ELPC Senior Policy Advocate, said in a statement. “We are confident that provisions in the Reap Modernization Act will help make it a stronger program, and we will continue to ensure that REAP is further improved to be more accessible for the smaller operations it can best serve.”

His group aims to help secure an increase in the portion of program funds “set aside for small projects,” as well as the following measures:

  • Inclusion of a rebate-style grant for pre-approved technologies.
  • Improved equity and access to the program for beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers.

REAP received more than $2 billion from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act to help farmers and rural small businesses install solar, wind, and other technologies and improve energy efficiency, E&E News reported.

The program has come under scrutiny for including biomass energy and changes to how projects are selected. However, E&E News reported that the REAP Modernization Act seeks to increase the USDA’s outreach to small businesses and farmers and make greenhouse gas emissions reductions a “central part” of the program.


Back To Top