The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials and Congressman Peter Welch joined farmers and small business owners in St. Albans, Vermont to announce 22 USDA Rural Development grants to generate or conserve energy on Vermont farms and at Vermont small businesses.

“Renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades not only reduce the cost of doing business for farmers and small businesses, but also help to reduce our country’s dependency on fossil fuels,” said Vermont and New Hampshire USDA Rural Development State Director Ted Brady. “Sustainable rural economies depend on sustainable energy sources and energy consumption.”

Across the state, the USDA invested a total of $1,555,448 in 12 solar installations, eight energy efficient upgrades in maple sugaring facilities, an energy efficient milk chiller, and a wood fired furnace. The projects will create or save the equivalent of enough electricity to power 676 homes annually.

The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) allows farmers and small businesses to apply for a grant of up to 25 percent of a renewable energy or energy efficiency project’s cost, up to a maximum grant of $500,000, or $250,000 for an energy efficiency project. Brady said the federal investment leveraged an additional $7,462,072 in private investment from the grantees and other partners.

In Morses Line, Greg Bouchard and his family used a $12,444 REAP grant to purchase and install a new reverse osmosis machine in their sugarhouse. The new equipment, which removes water from maple sap before boiling, will reduce the Bouchard’s energy consumption during the boiling process by 79 percent. Bouchard said in addition to USDA Rural Development, Efficiency Vermont and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service helped the family with the purchase. See the attached chart for a full list of the 2015 REAP projects.

The Bouchard family benefited from a provision of the 2014 Farm Bill supported by Welch reducing the size of the REAP application. The simplified application, about one third the size of the previous application for an applicant seeking a grant of under $20,000, also reduces the amount of required supporting documentation. This year, 10 of the projects funded, nearly half of the total projects, qualified for the simplified application.

“These grants are great news for Vermont rural businesses and farmers,” said Welch. “Investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy is a win-win-win: It creates jobs, saves money and is good for the environment. We need to make more of these common sense investments to put hard working Vermonters to work while helping our country get one step closer to energy independence.”

During the announcement, Brady and Welch announced that the USDA is currently accepting applications for the next round of REAP funding through November 2. Funding is available for projects under $80,000, with a maximum grant of $20,000. Larger applications are encouraged to apply, but are not due until May 2, 2016.