A new program out of James Madison University is connecting farmers and small business owners with funding for wind-powered projects.
The Center for Wind Energy aims to diversify the commonwealth’s energy portfolio by spreading the word about USDA’s Renewable Energy for America Program.
The program provides funding for renewable projects including solar, geothermal and biomass, but JMU’s Distributed Wind Assistance Program is focused on harnessing Virginia’s exceptional winds.
“They have the best wind resource in Virginia,” said Dustyn Vallies, outreach manager for the program, of the Eastern Shore.
“The Eastern Shore just needs a little bit of help and that’s what the wind center from James Madison University is providing,” he said.
REAP gives renewable energy and efficiency grants and loans to agricultural producers and rural small businesses, but few know they are eligible for the program, Vallies said.
The Farm Bill made REAP the largest of its programs with mandatory funding of $50 million per year through 2018, but the program backed just seven wind projects totaling $308,000 in grants in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2016 Distributed Wind Market Report.
The program provides loan guarantees for up to 75 percent of a project’s costs, but there were no loan applications for wind in 2016, the report showed.
“There’s a lot of opportunity out there and it’s just not common knowledge at the moment,” Vallies said.
He is working to change that through outreach events, such as his talk during the Eastern Shore Agricultural Conference and Trade Show earlier this year, where he said he connected with two local farmers.
“What we’re trying to do is find a market within Virginia to see who can actually utilize distributed wind” systems, which are characterized by how close they are to the point of end-use, Vallies said.
For “a lot of wind producers in the (United) States, their largest market specifically for distributed wind is across seas, so they export a lot of their systems,” he said.
One community leveraging REAP funds to increase their energy production is Floyd, Virginia.
The small town in the state’s southwest is best known for its annual music and arts festival that draws thousands each summer, but it is marrying existing agriculture and small businesses with wind-power production.
“They like the independence of it and they see the opportunity of being able to cut down the electricity bill,” Vallies said.
“It’s not rocket science,” he added. “They have good wind resource and they have small businesses and ag producers that are eligible (for REAP funds).”
On the Eastern Shore, where wind resources are equal if not better, a similar partnership is possible, he said.
Rural small businesses, meaning those in areas with a population of 50,000 or less, are eligible to apply for REAP grants and loans.
Agricultural producers – anyone who earns at least 50 percent of his or her total income from farming – are also eligible to apply.
REAP funding is available for wind and other renewable projects including solar, geothermal and biomass, as well as for increasing energy efficiency. Grants fund up to 25 percent of a project, and loans are available for up to 75 percent of total project costs.
Although the Distributed Wind Assistance Program focuses on wind power in Virginia, REAP funding is available in other states and “if people reach out to us, we point them in the right directions,” Vallies said.
A typical wind system lasts from 20 to 25 years, he added.
Contact Vallies at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a free wind analysis report or for assistance with a REAP application.
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