Senate Testimony on REAP Benefits for American Agriculture

Friday, October 13th, 2017

The Senate Agriculture Committee recently held a hearing on Rural Development and Energy Programs: Perspectives for the 2018 Farm Bill. Senators heard from USDA staff and rural development experts and got important perspective on the value of the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to agriculture and rural America.

Mark Olinyk testifies in front of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee on Energy Issues in the Farm Bill (PRNewsfoto/Harvest Energy Solutions)

Mark Olinyk, President and CEO of Harvest Energy Solutions, based in Jackson, Michigan, shared his direct experience with REAP, which provides incentives to farmers and rural businesses to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Olinyk strongly endorsed REAP and urged the Senate to increase funding for REAP in the next Farm Bill, along with other recommendations.

Olinyk, who has a farming background himself, praised REAP for helping American agriculture; “Put simply, the farmers and small businesses we work with could not afford the renewable energy systems we provide without upfront financing provided through the REAP program.”

Harvest Energy Solutions serves the agricultural community with help from REAP, by providing means to lower and stabilize energy costs: “REAP allows our clients to save electricity, save money, achieve greater efficiencies, and make their operations more stable, less risky, and more profitable,” Olinyk pointed out.

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), ranking member of the committee, pointed out that REAP is “consistently over-subscribed with more interest than funding” and asked Mr. Olinyk for his views on this.

Olinyk responded that “the more available REAP money, the more benefit to farmers and businesses. Period. It produces jobs.” “That means more clean, renewable energy, and more jobs and economic growth in rural areas,” said Olinyk.

Benefits to Farmers

Kris Green Farm, Wakeman, Ohio

REAP’s benefits are visible, dependable, and necessary.

Mr. Olinyk emphasized the benefit provided by REAP for farmers, and especially poultry growers, struggling with low commodity prices and high input costs. In some cases he said these farmers are being stretched thin and their continued operation could be in doubt. REAP alleviates increasing energy costs, allowing farmers to concentrate their expenses on improving and expanding agricultural production.

Said Olinyk, “Farmers (who were already making slim margins) are being stretched too thin. REAP grants have allowed them to invest back in to their operations with solar energy, insulation, lighting, and other energy efficiency upgrades.”

Rural Economic Development and Job Growth

Alexander Pork – Promise City, IA

Not only does REAP offer direct financial benefits to farmers, it additionally provides rural economic development by leveraging private investment. Olinyk described a number of projects where the REAP grant made a decisive difference in the investment, providing an economic domino effect that helps the whole community. Studies have shown that REAP has great impact on job creation.

“In total, we have completed hundreds of successful solar and wind installations in the states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In these states we are providing clean, renewable energy while creating economic growth and wealth in rural communities,” said clean energy entrepreneur Mark Olinyk.

Business Opportunities

Tripp Furches – Murray, KY

From farmers in Kentucky to Iowa, REAP’s impact is evident. One example is Tripp Furches, a Kentucky grain operator. Furches was hesitant to build solar on his farm, even though he knew of the long term benefits it would have. As with so many farmers, Furches’ input costs were not going down, but the sale price of his corn was.

Furches secured a renewable energy grant through REAP and was able to build a beautiful, cost-saving solar array on his land.  These fiscal limitations made Furches hesitant to build solar on his farm, even though he knew of the long term benefits it would have. Mr. Furches freed up enough income to expand and diversify his farming operation. In September, 2014, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell visited Furches’ family farm to see this success story first hand.

You can download Mr. Olinyk’s Senate testimony here (PDF).

 

Congressional Appropriators Finish Work on FY18 Funding

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

The 2018 funding picture for farm energy development programs came into sharper focus after the appropriations committees of both houses of Congress passed fiscal year 2018 agricultural appropriations bills.  However, it’s not at all clear what happens from here.

The Senate bill cut or rescinded a total of $64 million from farm energy programs. Overall, the House bill cut farm energy funding far deeper than the Senate, and targeted REAP in particular. The House cut or rescinded a total of $213 million from farm energy programs. In some cases rescinding funds carried forward from previous years, as provided in the 2014 Farm Bill

Rural Energy for America Program (REAP): The Senate bill protects REAP from cuts in mandatory Farm Bill funding and even adds a small amount in discretionary funding. This comes as a relief given the Trump budget would cut all mandatory funding, plus rescind all carryover funds – which would have been the worst cuts in the history of the program. Historically, the Senate leads in protecting Farm energy programs, including REAP.

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee cut REAP from $50 million in mandatory funding to $9 million. Unfortunately, during the full Appropriations Committee consideration of the bill,  Subcommittee Chairman Aderholt sought to cut REAP even further, to a mere $1 (one) million, in a manager’s amendment. This cut would essentially kill the program. However, an error in the amendment the committee passed may spare REAP the second round of cuts. We will continue to monitor the House if this bill moves to the floor after the summer recess.

Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP): Appropriations Committees in both chambers capped BCAP, from an original $25 million in mandatory funding to zero.

Biorefinery Assistance Program: Under the 2014 Farm Bill this program did not have any mandatory funding for FY 2018. The Farm Bill, however, provided for funds to carry over from previous years to support the program. There were $178 million in carryover funds in the program’s account. The House Appropriations Committee rescinded all but $31 million while the Senate committee left $139 million in the account.

The next steps in the appropriations process are not clear. Under the regular order of business the bills would go to the full House and Senate and then a Conference Committee would work out differences. At this point the House may be bundling packages of appropriations bills for consideration; the Senate process is moving more slowly. Some  observers expect that FY 18 appropriations will be covered by an omnibus bill (or bills) just as we had for FY 2017 and FY 2016 before that.

 

Farm Bill Clean Energy Programs Survive “Cromnibus”

Monday, December 15th, 2014

(December 15, 2104) The big news from our nation’s capital this past week has been the passage of the appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015, which began on October 1st. The federal government had been operating on funding extensions and was facing a deadline that risked another government shutdown. At this writing the bill has been passed that will fund government operations through the remainder of FY2015 and the President is expected to sign it.

TurnbullThe bad news is that (more…)

Congress Considers Very Different Farm Bills

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

As the Senate continues debate on the Farm Bill, the stakes are high for a growing source of new farm income, jobs, business opportunities and environmental progress. Farm Bill clean energy programs leverage private investment to tap renewable resources of all sorts from America’s agricultural sector as a new, reliable “cash crop” that increases and diversifies income and creates jobs.

The Agriculture Committees of the House and Senate passed sharply different Farm Bills, with big differences for clean energy progress. The Senate Ag Committee provided funding to continue program operations, although at lower levels, while the House Farm Bill eliminates mandatory funding entirely for energy programs.

(more…)

A Fighting Chance for Farm Bill Clean Energy Programs

Friday, October 5th, 2012

October 5, 2012 – With Congress adjourned until after November elections, the existing Farm Bill has (temporarily) lapsed, along with nearly all Energy Title programs. The Farm Bill’s successful Energy Title has a fighting chance of survival with support in both parties and both chambers. (more…)

110 Groups Ask Congress to Renew and Fund Energy Title in 2012 Farm Bill

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Broad Support for Homegrown Clean Energy Shown in National Letter

WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than 100 diverse groups representing agriculture, energy, rural development and conservation called on Congress today to renew and fund core energy programs in the Farm Bill that push forward clean, homegrown energy. These programs advance energy efficiency, wind, solar, new energy crops, biomass energy and biobased products.

In a joint letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, signers noted, “These important and growing industries all benefit agriculture and forestry and are poised to make huge contributions to our economic, environmental and national security in the coming years, provided that we maintain stable policies that support clean energy.”

The energy programs are administered by the USDA and have made a number of accomplishments since the first Energy Title was created in the 2002 Farm Bill:

* The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) has supported nearly 8,000 energy efficiency and renewable energy projects across the nation in varying agricultural sectors.

* The Biomass Crop Assistance Program has assisted farmers in developing homegrown energy crops that support farms and supply needed energy sources

* Biofuel advancements have accelerated through support from the Biorefinery Assistance Program.

“This letter arrives at the Agriculture Committees as rising gasoline prices remind America that our long-term energy challenges to our nation’s well-being require long-term commitment,” said Andy Olsen, ELPC Senior Policy Advocate. “Polls show the American people believe the Farm Bill should support clean energy and we know Congress can pass a Farm Bill that reflects the will of the American people.”

Download the letter.