Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to facilitate a meeting with many rural energy stakeholders that USDA Rural Development works closely with here in Iowa.
Joining me in the discussion were representatives from the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, MidAmerican Energy, USDA Farm Service Agency, Community Vitality Center at Iowa State University, the Iowa Economic Development Authority, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and many more.
Also in attendance were representatives from Senator Tom Harkin’s and Congressman Leonard Boswell’s offices. Senator Harkin helped draft the original Energy Title in the 2002 Farm Bill.
During the conversation it was very clear that USDA Rural Development’s energy programs are making significant impacts on rural communities throughout Iowa. The business owners and farmers benefitting from this assistance are decreasing their energy footprint, converting renewable resources into cleaner energy, and creating and saving jobs.
Since 2002, USDA Rural Development has awarded $130 million in guaranteed loans and grants to help more than 700 small businesses and producers in Iowa reduce energy costs by making energy-efficiency improvements, as well as installing renewable energy systems such as wind turbines, geothermal and solar.
I was excited to hear from LaVon Griffieon, owner of Griffieon Farms and a past recipient of the agency’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). LaVon had tremendous praise for the program, as well as how helpful Rural Development staff was throughout the entire application and awarding process. Griffieon Farms’ fresh meat direct-market business is now using 34 percent less energy thanks to three new commercial freezers purchased with assistance from REAP.
Mark Edelman with Iowa State University’s Community Vitality Center, and Jennifer Reutzel with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), both talked about the importance of energy audits for small businesses in rural America. This year REAP dollars are helping fund a pollution prevention program sponsored by the Iowa DNR that helps companies reduce water use and save energy, among other things.
Also during the meeting Andy Olsen with Environmental Law and Policy Center emphasized the important role solar technologies and small wind projects could play with producers and businesses looking to save energy costs.