New Farm, Ranch Program Can Boost Renewable Energy in Texas

April 24, 2003

New Farm, Ranch Program Can Boost Renewable Energy in Texas

But USDA Should Extend Deadline for Grant Applications

AUSTIN – A new federal grants program designed to help Texas farmers, ranchers and rural small business owners generate power using the sun, wind and other renewable sources could play a major role in developing the renewable energy industry in Texas, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen said today.

The new program, which offers $23 million in grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), will help agriculture producers and rural small business owners buy and install wind turbines, solar electric panels and other equipment that generates electricity from renewable energy sources.

“This program has the potential to foster small-scale renewable energy projects across Texas,” said Travis Brown, energy projects director with Public Citizen’s Texas office. “It can help Texas farmers and ranchers cut their energy costs.”

However, the program offers only a 60-day window for applying, so Public Citizen is urging people to call on U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to extend the deadline from June 6 to at least July 7. The department should make other changes that would make applying easier, such as removing the requirement for a feasibility study for grants seeking $25,000 or less.

“It’s vital the USDA know there are Texas farmers and ranchers and rural business owners who would like to apply but can’t meet that deadline or conduct a feasibility study,” Brown said.

Funded as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, the grants may be used for up to 25 percent of an eligible project’s cost. Eligible projects include those that produce electricity from sources such as wind, sun, biomass or geothermal energy.

Brown praised U.S. Reps. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), Charles Stenholm (D-Texas) and Larry Combest (R-Texas) for supporting this year’s funding, but noted that future funding is in doubt because the program is slated to be cut from the federal budget.

“Texans need to let their representatives in Congress know that they support designating a relatively small amount of money to help farmers, ranchers and small rural businesses put renewable energy to work,” Brown said.

This spring could be a crucial time in Texas for wind and solar power because the Texas Legislature also is considering several renewable energy-related bills. Those include:

  • HB 2548, which addresses electric power transmission problems that have dampened growth of wind power in Texas;
  • HB 2910, which would increase the state goal for obtaining renewable energy to 10 percent of the state’s energy needs by 2019; and
  • HB 3271, which calls for 50 megawatts of renewable energy to be produced in the state by 2009 through small-scale power generation.

“Together, the new grants program and passage of these bills could reduce our state’s dependence on fossil fuels that pollute our skies and threaten our health,” Brown said.

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Those interested in the grant program should contact their local USDA office; Pat Liles of the USDA Rural Development office in Temple; or Lisa Elledge, Coordinator for Trade and Federal Issues in Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Comb’s office.

To read the USDA’s press release on the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Grant Program online, click here.

To read the Texas Department of Agriculture’s related press release online, click here.