As a farmer in eastern South Dakota, I witnessed one of the biggest growth periods in renewable energy in our country’s history.
I saw firsthand how the investments in biofuels benefited rural Americans by creating jobs and capturing wealth locally. Leaders in the community got together, made commitments to invest in renewable energy projects, and shared in the success of the projects once they matured.
Renewable energy projects are not only good for the rural economy, they are an important component of President Barack Obama’s across-the-board approach to building an energy infrastructure. The path he laid out will secure our energy future and promote economic growth by out-innovating and out-competing global competition.
Renewable energy production is smart for our country both strategically and economically. As gas prices have gone up, we are reminded that oil supplies are fragile and that global events and speculation can have a large effect on the price. Whether it is tumult in the Middle East or hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico, the long and complex supply chains for petroleum energy can be disrupted by a multitude of events.
Abundant domestic resources make the expanded use of clean, reliable and American-made renewable energy the best way to mitigate these risks in the long run and take control of gas prices. Producing renewable energy here at home not only increases economic and strategic security, but also provides job growth and captures the wealth of energy production in the communities that produce it.
Building on the success of conventional biofuels, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working with research centers and private businesses to develop new generation biofuels made from feedstocks such as switch grass, corn stover and algae. The promise of new generation biofuels is enormous and provides the greatest hope for our work to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Additionally, USDA is interested in finding ways for rural Americans to use alternative energy technologies that harness the power of wind and sun. The wind that regularly whips through the Great Plains and across Texas can drive turbines that provide energy to individual farms or for sale to the electrical grid. The powerful sun in the American Southwest can heat the solar panels that provide the energy to operate a business or defray the energy costs in a home.
One important way we support the effort to expand renewable energy generation and use is through the Rural Energy for America Program.
REAP gives rural Americans the opportunity to take the lead in the production of alternative energy by tapping into all of rural America’s natural resource strengths. The program supports, among other things, biomass, wind and solar energy projects from applications received from rural small business owners or agricultural producers.
Under the REAP program, $61 million has been made available in guaranteed loans and $42 million has been made available for grants. Those funds can be used for various energy efficiency projects including anaerobic digesters on livestock farms, audits of energy improvements and, now, flex-fuel pumps. For additional information, refer to www.rurdev.usda.gov.
With tools like the REAP program, USDA is helping rural America lead the way to our nation’s renewable energy future. And we can’t afford to wait any longer for our economy, our national security, and for prices at the gas pump.
This blog appeared recently in the Indianapolis Star and is posted here with permission.