The USDA has selected for funding 450 projects nationwide, including 31 in North Carolina, that are focused on helping agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy consumption and costs; use renewable energy technologies in their operation; and/or conduct feasibility studies for renewable energy projects. Funding is made available through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which is authorized by the 2008 farm bill.

"The Obama administration and USDA are helping agricultural producers and rural small business owners reduce their energy costs and consumption – and by doing so is helping to create jobs, preserve our natural resources, protect the environment and strengthen the bottom line for businesses." said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "This is part of the administration's ‘all of the above’ energy strategy. Stable energy costs create an environment for sustainable job growth in rural America."

Secretary Vilsack made the announcement while touring Metrolina Greenhouses, a family-owned plant and services company in Huntersville, North Carolina, that has received a REAP guaranteed loan and three grants totaling over $1 million since 2007. In 2009, Metrolina received a combined REAP guaranteed loan and grant to construct a wood boiler heating system to supplement and replace the natural gas and fuel it uses at the 120-acre facility. In addition to heating Metrolina's greenhouses, using wood chips in the boiler provides an additional market for local lumber mills and logging operations.

Tennessee small business owner Rick Alexander is using a REAP grant and investing another $325,000 to create the first solar powered business in Maury County. Electricity is the largest expense for the climate controlled storage facility he built as a creative re-use of a former furniture building in the downtown business district. The 260 panel, 60 kW solar photovoltaic system is expected to generate more than 71,000 kWh, enough electricity to meet over half of the energy needs of his business for the next two decades. By also participating in the Tennessee Valley Authority's Generation Partners program through Columbia Power and Water, Alexander earns a premium on each clean kW produced, more than enough to cover the average monthly cost of electricity for his businesses.

In Mount Hope, Wis., located in the southwest corner of the state, Maurice Nichols was selected to receive a grant to purchase efficient grain dryer for his farm, saving over 42 percent in annual energy usage.

Whispering Pines Poultry in Centre, Ala., was selected to receive a grant to replace four propane heaters with renewable biomass wood pellet heaters to improve heating efficiency of the poultry houses. It is anticipated that the change will result in a yearly energy savings of over $3,000 per barn.

The announcement includes $412,304 in grant funding to 20 agricultural producers and rural businesses to conduct feasibility studies for renewable energy systems. For example, in Washington, the Port Angles Hardwood, LLC., has been selected to receive a grant to study the feasibility of installing a woody biomass co-generation system. If the project is feasible, all biomass mill residuals are estimated to be consumed, and no biomass will have to be sent to a landfill.

In South Londonberry, Vermont Woodchips, Inc. has been selected to receive a grant to help determine feasibility of installing a 4 megawatt combined cycle biomass gasifier power plant.

REAP offers funds for farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy-efficiency improvements. These federal funds leverage other funding sources for businesses. In all, USDA announced nearly $7.4 million in energy grants today.