USDA is giving just over $2 million in grant money to fund rural renewable energy projects and energy efficiency improvements across the Sunbelt.

Texas leads the way among the five Southern states receiving the grant money with $999,350 in USDA funds split between two projects in Hartley and Carson counties. Also reaping the rewards of their energy improvement efforts were projects in California, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Projects in California's Glen, San Joaquin and Imperial counties are receiving a total of $691,830, while five applicants in Walthall, Marion, Pike and Lawrence counties of Mississippi will split $231,503. In the Southeast, an energy project in Pitt County, N.C., will receive $130,000, and one Marlboro County, S.C., project will get $15,000.

Nationwide, a total of $21.2 million in grants was approved for 113 projects in 24 states. The grant program is part of the Bush administration's effort to increase America's energy independence through the development of renewable energy resources as well as improving efficiency of existing systems.

“America's rural businesses, farmers and ranchers are key to the development of renewable energy for our country,” says Thomas C. Dorr, undersecretary for rural development. “The capital investments being made through these grants will support the conversion of our natural resources and residuals of farming operations into new sources of energy and help meet the energy goals outlined by President Bush in 2001.”

Authorized by the 2002 farm bill, the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements program provides funding to eligible agricultural producers, rural small businesses, or individuals who have demonstrated financial need.

Grant funds can be used to pay up to 25 percent of the cost for eligible projects, which include those that either derive energy from a wind, solar, biomass, or geothermal source, or hydrogen derived from biomass or water using wind, solar or geothermal energy sources.