Lawmakers’ Legislation Would Increase Funding, Expand Eligibility to Help Rural Communities Install Renewable Energy Systems

WASHINGTON, D.C. [6/24/21]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-VA 7)—along with U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Representative David G. Valadao (R-CA 21)—introduced legislation in both the Senate and House aimed at improving the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which provides financial assistance to agricultural producers and rural business owners to install renewable energy systems and adopt energy efficiency measures.
 

Sen. Smith and Rep. Spanberger, who each chair a subcommittee that oversees rural energy efficiency, said that in the last six years, REAP has leveraged over $300 million in public investment to stimulate more than ten times that amount in private investment, and has delivered over $4 billion in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for rural America. Demand for the program chronically far outstrips available funds, and Sen. Smith and Rep. Spanberger understand that the REAP program can be an important tool for meeting climate goals.

“Renewable energy is rural energy. The clean energy transition is key to improving and sustaining economic vitality in rural communities. We need new clean energy programs, but we also need to get more from our existing programs,” said Sen. Smith. “Take REAP for example. We know this is a popular and effective program, which is why I’m glad to partner with Rep. Spanberger to introduce this bill to improve and increase funding for REAP. The Energy Title of the Farm Bill incentivizes farmers to install renewable energy systems on their farms, and REAP is the flagship of the Energy Title. I’m also pushing for programs like REAP to play a part in the climate and infrastructure package that we must pass this summer.”

“As Chair of the House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, I remain committed to finding new ways to protect the health of our land while also improving farmers’ bottom lines. In this moment marked by the rising threat of climate change and extreme weather conditions, we should take commonsense steps to provide family farms across our country with greater opportunities to build on their existing efforts to combat the climate crisis,” said Rep. Spanberger. “I’m proud to help lead this bipartisan, bicameral effort to strengthen support for our farmers and producers through the REAP program. The REAP Improvement Act would reduce the financial burdens faced by farmers, producers, and rural small businesses as they make smart investments in clean energy, energy storage, and other cutting-edge technologies — and it would significantly cut down the existing backlog of REAP projects at USDA. I would like to thank Senator Smith for her leadership on this issue in the U.S. Senate, and I look forward to making sure our rural producers and communities are not left behind as we build a healthier climate and invest in a strong economy in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.”

“Farming and ranching communities should be supported and empowered to be on the front line of deploying clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency in our transition to a clean energy economy. This legislation will provide opportunities for New Mexico farmers and ranchers, including those experiencing drought, to make up for needed revenues,” said Sen. Luján. “I look forward to working with Senator Smith and Representative Spanberger to advance this legislation for our rural communities.”

“As a lifelong dairy farmer, I believe we must act as responsible stewards of our environment, and the farming community is actively implementing technology to do just that,” said Rep. Valadao. “I’m proud to introduce the REAP Improvement Act with Representative Abigail Spanberger. This bill would  make significant reforms to improve USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program. This legislation would help more farmers and producers voluntarily take advantage of this program that helps them invest in clean energy and energy efficiency.”

On Tuesday, Sen. Smith chaired a rural development subcommittee hearing where energy leaders from Minnesota and across the country discussed REAP and other opportunities to expand the nation’s use of renewable energy to create jobs and economic development in rural America. In 2018, Sen. Smith led the Agricultural Energy Programs Reauthorization Act, portions of which were incorporated into the Farm Bill, and she leads an annual Senate bipartisan appropriations request letter for the energy title programs, including REAP.

Sen. Smith and Rep. Spanberger’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) improvement Act of 2021 would:

  • Make the reduction of greenhouse gases a more integral part of the REAP program mission;
  • Expand program eligibility to include agricultural producer cooperatives and rural electric cooperative;
  • Increase available cost share for REAP grants;
  • Streamline the application process;
  • Improve outreach and technical assistance;
  • Establish a study on dual use of farmland for both energy production and traditional farming;
  • Increase funding levels to an average of $250 million per year over 10 years; and
  • Establish a reserve fund for underused technologies.

You can access a summary of the legislation here and a section-by-section for the bill here. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) improvement Act of 2021 is endorsed by the National Milk Producers Federation, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Agriculture Energy Coalition, Organic Valley and the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

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