By DOUG GRAVES
WEST CHESTER, Ohio — Last month USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced funding for 244 projects nationwide that are focused on helping agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy consumption and costs, and use renewable energy technologies in their operations.
A Butler County, Ohio, company found the offer lucrative, as the USDA’s Rural Development agency recently awarded Winelco, Inc. a $103,629 Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant. This will allow the West Chester business to install a 90-kilowatt photo voltaic solar power system that will generate 97,570 kilowatt hours annually.
“We’re an environmental company, so the ‘green’ aspect of the project was attractive to us,” said Dan Ullman, vice president for Winelco, which designs, builds and operates water and wastewater systems for residential, commercial and municipal wastewater/water treatment industry sectors.
The project is projected to provide for nearly 100 percent of the company’s electric needs at its West Chester facility. The 50-employee company has two years to use the grant money toward the remaining balance of the system’s price tag, which initially was listed as $414,517 but may change, Ullman said.
“The project would be unfeasible without the grant,” he said.
Rural Development funds are used to assist farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses in developing renewable energy systems, and in making energy-efficiency improvements to their operations. REAP was initially authorized by Congress under the 2002 farm bill and was again reauthorized by Congress through the 2008 bill, according to Randy Monhemius, acting business director for Rural Development in Ohio.
“REAP grants can pay for up to 25 percent of a project’s cost, so it is imperative the applicant can be able to pay for the balance of the project’s costs from cash on hand or borrowed capital,” Monhemius said.
Because of cuts in the program, REAP went from $75 million in funding for grants and loan guarantees for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in fiscal year 2011, to $25 million nationally this year, Monhemius said.
Ohio was allocated $289,000 in fiscal year 2012, he added. The state successfully competed on a national basis for an additional $263,000, giving it a total of $552,000 in grant funding for 20 projects.
“Over the last several years, grants have ranged from a low of about $1,500 to the maximum grant allowable of $500,000 depending upon the total costs associated with the projects, but never more than 25 percent of eligible project costs,” he said.
In addition to Winelco, two other Ohio companies are on board with USDA renewable energy funding. Alliance Recycling Center of Alliance will be installing a solar array system with a grant of $104,360, and Elsass Farms, Inc. of Anna, which specializes in beef cattle, will use a grant of $19,281 to install a grain dryer.
Grant money from USDA’s Rural Development effort will be used for a variety of reasons, including installing wind turbines, replacing irrigation systems, replacing irrigation motors, installing hydropower systems, installing flex fuel dispensers and more.