USDA invests nearly $79K in renewable energy to help Kansas communities, businesses and ag producers

Alice Mannette
Topeka Capital-Journal
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks to the press during a tour of G & C Farm, a farm affected by drought and high temperatures, in Salem, Oregon on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021.

USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today announced plans for spending $464 million on renewable energy infrastructure for rural areas in 48 states and Puerto Rico.

The USDA is financing $129 million of these investments through the Rural Energy for America Program. This program provides funding to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements.

The climate-smart investments will conserve and generate more than 379 million kilowatt-hours in rural America, which equates to enough electricity to power more than 35,000 homes annually.

Through the Electric Loan Program, the department will invest $335 million in loans to help build or improve 1,432 miles of line to strengthen reliability in rural areas. Much of this money will go toward smart grid technology, the expansion of carbon capture and other investments in "carbon-smart technologies."

Kansas will obtain some of this funding.

"These are all being financed from normal budget allocations from Congress," Vilsack said in a briefing. "We're doing the best we can to move these things forward."

Of the 411 grants that are totaling more than $7 ½ million, Vilsack said, "The vast majority are going to small- and medium-sized family-owned farms to go into renewable energy."

In addition to wind power, projects being funded include solar panels and power line updates —strengthening lines, putting in underground lines and increasing capacity. 

More:Kansas governor helps rural communities by awarding $5M to short rail improvements

Renewable energy investments in Kansas

Through these funds, USDA Rural Development Acting State Director for Kansas, Dan Fischer, announced the USDA is investing $78,757 to build or improve renewable energy infrastructure and to help rural communities, agricultural producers and businesses lower energy costs in five Kansas communities. 

“We recognize that lowering energy costs for small businesses and agricultural producers helps to expand economic development and employment opportunities in rural towns and communities," Fisher said in a release.

This program provides funding to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements. These energy-efficient investments will conserve and generate more than 280,000 kilowatt-hours in rural Kansas. This equates to enough electricity to power 26 homes each year.

The investments in Kansas are:

  • Kansas Maid of Madison will use a $20,000 grant to help purchase and install solar equipment. The project is estimated to replace 124,747 kilowatt hours per year. This equates to about 74% of the company's energy usage and is enough energy to power 11 homes.
  • Merle Schmidt of Copeland will use a slightly less than $12,000 grant to help purchase and install a 15-kilowatt wind turbine. This project will save approximately $4,000 per year and replace about 47,000 kilowatt hours per year. This amounts to 100% of Schmidt's consumption and enough electricity to power four homes.
  • R & E Goering Farms will use a slightly less than $19,000 grant to help complete irrigation pump upgrades in Moundridge. The project is estimated to save 42,851 kilowatt hours per year, reducing energy consumption by a little more than 40%, which is enough to power three homes.
  • Caldwell Pharmacy of Caldwell will use an $8,000 grant to help purchase and install solar equipment. The project is estimated to replace 20,532 kilowatts per year. This is enough energy to power one home for a year and equates to 80% of the pharmacy's energy usage. Caldwell Pharmacy currently has four employees.
  • Swisher Properties of Minneapolis will use a $20,000 grant to help purchase and install a 30.78 kilowatt rooftop solar array. The project is estimated to replace 44,760 kilowatt hours per year. This equates to slightly less than 90% of its energy usage and is enough energy to power four homes. 

More:Kansas farmland prices are up 11% from 2020, with cropland value up 14%. That's good and bad news for farmers.

Helping ethanol plants

Funds are also designated to help ethanol plants across the U.S. with carbon capture.

"There are a lot of ways this administration can provide stability to the biofuels industry," Vilsack said.

The Secretary of Agriculture said he was looking forward to expanding opportunities in the biofuels industry that are yet to be tapped, including in aviation.

“USDA continues to prioritize climate-smart infrastructure to help rural America build back better, stronger and more equitably than ever before,” Vilsack said. “We recognize that lowering energy costs for small businesses and agricultural producers helps to expand economic development and employment opportunities for people in America’s rural towns and communities.”