The Arkansas Farm Bureau is sponsoring a set of early February meetings for state producers and businessmen interested in taking advantage of the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). REAP provides a 25 percent subsidy for implementing or upgrading energy efficient systems.

For more on the meetings, see Arkansas Farm Bureau REAP meetings set for February

According to Farm Bureau, “REAP can be used to cover virtually any energy upgrades to fixed structures on your operation, including but not limited to solid sidewalls, new fans, cool cells, light bulbs and much more. … In addition to REAP, this year’s program will cover other energy programs you may be eligible for that are administered by the Department of Energy, Agriculture, and the state of Arkansas, some of these programs will cost share 80 percent or more of a project.”

Grant writer Bruce Everly will be at the meetings to present the options available and provide advice for those attending. Farm Bureau says Everly-written applications have been granted 80 percent of the time.

In late January, Everly spoke with Delta Farm Press about the grant programs, what they will cover and how farmers and businessmen can benefit. Among his comments:

An overview of the program and what’s available...

“There are a number of programs available to rural small businesses and farmers. These programs pay somewhere between 25 percent to 40 percent of projects that reduce energy use in small businesses and farming.

“They do this by subsidizing energy conservation or generating energy from renewable sources.

“These are wonderful programs that have put millions of dollars into Arkansas. In 2010, at least $1.2 million came into the state. This year, our goal is to bring in around $2 million in subsidies.”

What about the different facets of this?

“Irrigation is a wonderful application to put in. With irrigation, you can reliable count on these grants to give you 25 percent off the cost of changing diesel motors to electric. That includes the cost of wiring those motors from the nearest pole; changing out from high- to low-pressure irrigation systems; and also updating the well and trying to reduce the pressure.

“If the project includes any of those things, it’s a high-probability candidate for funding by the USDA. Most projects would receive $20,000.

“The most common sized projects are $80,000. So, the subsidy is 25 percent of that.”

On grain dryers…

“In 2010, over $60 million in government support was given to grain-drying companies selling high-efficiency drying systems. Normally, this money goes to a system going up in technology – say someone going from an in-bin drying system to a continuous, flow-drying system. Those types of projects are high-probability winners of a grant. If they’re going from continuous-flow to tower dryers, they’ll surely be a winner.

“Those projects usually come in at $200,000, or less. They normally get a grant of $50,000.

“In Arkansas, which has only recently begun to take advantage of this, we won every grant applied for in 2010. We count on the same success this year.”

On renewable energy…

“Renewable energy projects – photovoltaic or windmills -- are also up for grants. Those can receive not only a federal subsidy of 30 percent from the Treasury Department, but another 25 percent subside from the USDA. So, the total federal support for renewable energy projects in Arkansas is 55 percent.

“On top of that, many utilities have programs that pay additional money for someone generating power using a green energy source like wind or solar.

“This is a great opportunity for small businesses to take advantage of – those who want to eliminate utility bills in the future and replace them with solar or wind power. The legislation is in place to make this possible, the funding is there at a minimum of 55 percent.”

On small businesses…

“A small business could get not only a REAP grant but can also get $1.80 per square foot deducted from their taxes for energy conservation work.  For someone doing an $80,000 project in a ‘non-urban’ community – and in Arkansas that’s defined by the federal government as the whole state except for Little Rock and bit of Bentonville – they’d get funds for such things as reducing heating and air-conditioning costs. That might include adding insulation and improving windows.

“It could also help businesses like grocers that are putting in new cooler cases. It’s a fantastic opportunity for such situations. They can get $20,000 and then $1.80 per square foot in tax deductions. Say, a grocery store has 10,000 square feet and you’re looking at a lot of money: $18,000 in tax deductions alone.

“In other states, common applications for these grants are warehouses that go to geo-thermal heating and cooling to reduce bills, manufacturing companies that go to solar hot water heating for some of their processes, to small convenience stores changing out their coolers to heat-recovery systems to reclaim wasted energy from the” older units.

What about farm applications?

“It has to be the business side, not for residences.

“The most common grant is awarded for portable, continuous-flow grain dryers. That’s where most of the money goes. Poultry upgrades are very popular – say, $20,000 to insulate and seal the houses and reduce heating bills.”

On the meetings: anything those attending should bring with them?

“All they need to bring is an open mind.

“We’re not looking for them to bring any forms. We just want to raise their awareness of how the government is supporting their goals. We’ll talk specifically about four or five applications like those we’ve already covered.

“But anyone who has an idea about how to reduce energy consumption, that’s who these meetings are for. We’re a resource for them to see if their ideas are valid, or not.

“The return on investment for the average project awarded is 30 to 40 percent. Those are real numbers that can be backed up.”

You don’t take a fee unless the funds are granted?

“We do an audit for (clients). But we get paid when they win a grant – that’s how reliable we think winning is.”