Energy Department, USDA partner to support energy efficiency in rural communities

Energy Department, USDA partner to support energy efficiency in rural communities

Each year, urban households in the U.S. combine use more than three times the total energy that America’s rural households do. Yet, the Energy Information Administration estimates that rural families spend about $400 more per year in energy bills compared to the typical urban household, reports the U.S. Department of Energy.

Unlocking new opportunities to save energy will help rural Americans -- both businesses and homes -- save money, while improving energy security, creating jobs and protecting air and water.

The Department of Energy has seen this work at USDA Rural Development. Through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), the Energy Department has partnered with agriculture producers and rural small businesses to construct 6,605 renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvement projects since 2009, providing $213 million in grants and $178 million in loan guarantees. When complete, the projects will be responsible for generating or saving 7.32 billion kWh annually, enough energy to power 680,000 households each year.

The Departments of Agriculture and Energy announced a new collaboration -- the State Energy Extension Partnership -- to equip America’s farm families and rural small businesses with the efficiency tools, resources and training needed to reduce energy costs. Through this effort, the Energy Department’s energy efficiency expertise is being coupled with USDA’s Cooperative Extension Service resources and leveraging USDA Rural Development programs. 

As part of this partnership, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA Rural Development and the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy are harnessing their national resources and expertise to support community-driven projects throughout rural America, including:

  • Incorporating educational materials and technical assistance on energy efficiency and renewable energy into Cooperative Extension programs for youth and adults, such as the 4-H program
  • Providing easy access to information on tax credit incentives and other financing mechanisms for deploying renewable energy projects, conducting home energy audits and upgrades and installing energy efficient appliances
  • Supporting rural communities’ energy efficiency and renewable energy goals to help create jobs, expand business opportunities and improve local economies.

In 2011, the Energy Department launched pilot projects for two years in Kentucky, Nebraska and Wisconsin to lay the foundation for this broader, national partnership. Since then, state extension agents, land-grant universities and state energy offices have incorporated strategies to increase the use of energy efficiency.

In Kentucky, the project has helped develop home energy assessment training materials for county extension agents and education materials for 4-H programs in the state. Meanwhile, extension agents in Wisconsin are working with the University of Wisconsin to develop an Energy Clearinghouse website that provides a platform to access resources from the University of Wisconsin website and the state energy office, including the opportunity to share information on projects and ask questions. They’ve also provided training sessions on purchasing and maintaining energy efficient grain dryers to help farmers and ranchers improve their bottom lines. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, state energy and extension staff are helping farmers use the university’s crop water app for quick, cheaper irrigation and teaching farmers to use modern sensors and other soil moisture and crop water use measuring devices to improve irrigation management. The Nebraska project is also creating an energy efficiency rating system for irrigation equipment, modeled after Energy Star.

While both agencies are interested in funding similar grants in the future, this collaboration allows considerable flexibility in potential ways the agencies can work together in meeting their missions and serving mutual clients.

Topics: Agricultural and Farm Buildings, Architectural Firms, Associations / Organizations, Energy Audit / Energy Management, Energy Saving Products, ENERGY STAR, Incentives - Rebates / Tax Credits / Other, Sustainable Communities, Sustainable Trends and Statistics

Companies: U.S. Department of Energy

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