One of the hallmarks of the Obama Administration has been our commitment to economic growth through an expanding bio-based economy. Nowhere is that transformation more pronounced than the success of renewable energy. And USDA Rural Development has been a leader in that effort.
The proof is in the numbers: Domestic energy-related emissions have fallen to their lowest level in 20 years. Our dependence on foreign oil is at a 40-year low and declining. In the last eight years, USDA has helped lead an effort to promote the domestic production and use of advanced biofuels and biobased products, supporting millions of jobs and pumping hundreds-of-billions-of-dollars into the U.S. economy.
The biobased economy and renewable energy has certainly been a boon to farmers and ranchers. It has also lifted the economic prospects of small and large businesses and created wealth in small towns and communities throughout rural America. Much like our continued commitment to reliable and affordable electricity through our rural electric coops which started more than 80 years ago, USDA’s investments in today’s bio-based economy and renewable energy sources are giving rural America the capacity to thrive.
In February, we visited Bear Mountain Forest Products in my home state of Oregon. Last year, Rural Development provided them with $1,437,305 in Repowering Assistance Program funds to purchase and install a biomass dryer (replacing their propane fueled drying system with a wood fired system). The efficiency upgrade is anticipated to save the company $800,000 per year in operating costs. That’s a big boost to their bottom line, which has allowed them to expand and create even more jobs.
Bear Mountain is part of a bio-based industry that is generating $393 billion for the U.S. economy and contributing over 4.2 million jobs each year.
For farms and small businesses looking to reduce their energy consumption and costs, our signature energy efficiency program, the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to farmers, ranchers and rural businesses to purchase or install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements. Through this program alone, USDA has assisted over 15,000 rural small businesses, reducing greenhouse emissions that are equivalent to removing almost 1.2 million cars from the road annually.
REAP has supported over 4,000 wind and solar renewable energy projects, enough to power more than 158,000 homes annually and more than 100 anaerobic digesters to help farm operations produce and capture methane to produce electricity.
I am proud of the work we’ve done in Rural Development, and across USDA with investments in today’s bio-based economy and renewable energy sources are giving rural America the capacity to thrive.
To read more about USDA’s record of accomplishment in promoting the bio-based economy and renewable energy, visit our most recent Results Chapter on Medium.