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Important Updates from USDA Rural Development Rural Utilities Service

image credit: USDA Rural Development
Daniel Blottenberger's picture
Public Affairs Specialist, USDA Rural Development Pennsylvania

At USDA Rural Development we are committed to helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. Through our more than 40 loan and grant programs, we touch rural America in many...

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  • Mar 11, 2021
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There are two important updates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Rural (RD) Utilities Service (RUS) that I wanted to share with the group. 

First, the application deadline for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) is March 31. REAP helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements. 

The funds can be used for renewable energy systems such as:

  • Biomass (for example: biodiesel and ethanol, anaerobic digesters, and solid fuels).
  • Geothermal for electric generation or direct use. 
  • Hydropower below 30 megawatts. 
  • Hydrogen . 
  • Small and large wind generation. 
  • Small and large solar generation. 
  • Ocean (tidal, current, thermal) generation. 

Second, USDA is asking for public comments on the Final Rule to Expand Broadband Access in rural America under the ReConnect Program. The rule will eliminate paperwork requirements and will shorten the application process. It also enables an applicant to submit a letter of credit as proof of its financial ability to complete a project. These changes are expected to enable more companies to participate in the ReConnect program, resulting in more broadband coverage in rural areas. The changes take effect April 27, 2021, at the end of a 60-day comment period.

The ReConnect Program offers loans, grants and loan/grant combinations to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas that do not currently have sufficient access to it.

Comments must be submitted through https://www.regulations.gov by April 27, 2021. For additional information, see page 11603 of the February 26, 2021, Federal Register.

An example of the ReConnect program in action took place in October 2020 in rural Pennsylvania.  During the second round of the ReConnect program USDA invested $750,000 to connect 237 rural households to high-speed internet in Pennsylvania. The loan was awarded to Youngsville Television Corporation, doing business as Blue Fiber Corp. The company will deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 685 people, 34 businesses, eight farms, two educational facilities, two town halls, a post office and a fire station to high-speed broadband internet in Crawford County. The full press release can be read here.

As always, if you should have any questions or comments feel free to reach out to me and I will do my best to assist. Email: Daniel.Blottenberger@usda.gov

 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 11, 2021

Thanks for sharing, Daniel-- it seems the ability for rural farmers to utilize renewables on their land can be a key win win. I'm eager to see what comes out of this specific grant allocation process-- do you have any examples you can share of landmark projects that have been put forth in the past in a successful manner? 

Daniel Blottenberger's picture
Daniel Blottenberger on Mar 11, 2021

Hi Matt, thanks for asking. One our recent examples of REAP awards was seen in Oklahoma where USDA invested $18,434 to help an ag producer and a business make energy upgrades. The two projects the USDA is funding are:

• Denmar Enterprises: a $12,136 grant to buy and install a solar array at their wheat farm in the Newkirk area.

• Discount Steel of Krebs: a $6,298 grant to finance a lighting system upgrade.

I have reached out to one of program directors to see if she has an opinion on a landmark REAP project. I will get back to you with her response. -Daniel

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 11, 2021

Thanks for those examples, and yes would love to hear if she's willing to share her perspective too!

Daniel Blottenberger's picture
Thank Daniel for the Post!
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