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Ag Energy Experts Brief Congress, Stakeholders on Energy Title Progress (Video update)

(Video at end of page)

ELPC and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) gathered experts on agriculture and clean energy development in Washington on Tuesday, July 19 to address the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and other Farm Bill energy programs. Speaking to over 150 staffers and stakeholders in separate House and Senate briefings, they explained the broad benefits of these programs for farmers, businesses, economic development and national energy security policy.

Panelists were:

Other speakers at the briefings included EESI Executive Director Carol Werner and ELPC Director of Federal Relations Karen Torrent.

Energy Title Overview

The first panelist, Andy Olsen, provided a high level overview of how the Farm Bill is accelerating energy savings and clean energy production, supporting rural economic development in the process. Olsen emphasized that the private sector has responded positively to these programs with ingenuity and the American “can do” spirit. For example:

  • Advanced biofuels production – The USDA has moved quickly with the Biorefinery Assistance Program, providing loan guarantee financing to build cellulosic ethanol, community digester, and other biofuels/biopower facilities. USDA is accelerating approval of these guarantees and plants are now under construction in several states, with a concentration in the Southeast.
  • Energy crops – Although the Biomass Crop Assistance Program got off to a rocky start in 2009, the USDA made several key changes and the 2011 program is now back on track. USDA refocused BCAP on energy crop development and now more than 95% of all funding is for establishing and growing energy crops. BCAP should be judged on the basis of the 2011 program.

Focus on the Rural Energy for America Program

Olsen and the other speakers also highlighted how the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) serves every agricultural sector in every state, sparking private sector investment and innovation and retaining and creating much needed jobs in rural America.  REAP now has helped to finance more than 6,000 projects across the country – see map below.


Bennie Hutchins

Bennie described the growing popularity and use of REAP in the South, focusing on the strong benefits to poultry producers in slashing energy costs and producing renewable energy. REAP also has helped fund energy projects in aquaculture and forestry. Hutchins emphasized the great benefits for rural small businesses, such as “Mom and Pop” grocers who can use REAP to cut energy costs.

Bruce Knight

Bruce described how consumer demand has led the dairy industry to shift towards more sustainable practices through the whole dairy supply chain. Sustainability is “no longer a philosophical movement,” he said, “it’s now a consumer response.” Knight added that the dairy industry has been very responsive to this consumer demand, pursuing a broad and aggressive program to cut energy use and produce renewable energy and other coproducts from cow manure.  REAP is key to many of these efforts.

Bill Midcap

Bill explained that electric cooperatives are member owned and many of them offer great opportunity for locally-owned projects. He showed how many rural electric cooperatives have used REAP in innovative ways, such as: using the energy audit and renewable energy development assistance program to identify new projects; using feasibility study funding for their own coop-owned projects; grants to build their own systems; and combining multiple projects on customer properties under one master grant. He stressed that “REAP plus rural electric cooperatives can turn electric consumers into electric producers.”