Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has invited agricultural producers and rural small businesses to apply for loans and grants under the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Project (REAP) to implement renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements.

Examples of projects are the installation of more energy efficient grain dryers, renewable energy feasibility studies and audits or blender pumps for dispensing E85 (E85 is a fuel blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline).

Danny Ebelhar, a Daviess County, Ky., farmer, was awarded funding earlier this year to help replace a 35-year old grain drier with a new, more energy-efficient model.

He received 25 percent of the drier’s cost from the REAP program as well as an additional $10,000 from the 2011 ARRA On-farm Energy Efficiency & Production Incentives Program offered through the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy earlier this year.

 “We did have to hire a grant writer,” said Ebelhar, “but the process was painless.”

State Director Tom Fern said Kentucky’s Rural Development program has already funded several energy-efficiency projects using REAP funds, and his staff is able to process applications from agriculture producers and small rural businesses from a number of locations across the state.

While a small business asking for REAP assistance must be in a rural area, agricultural producers in non-rural areas are eligible. This clarification made in April makes requirements consistent with those of other USDA energy programs.

Since Rural Development's renewable energy and energy efficiency programs were launched in 2003, they have played a key role in helping more than 6,000 local businesses create jobs and make energy efficiency improvements. Under REAP, local businesses receive assistance to deploy wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy.

The deadlines for submitting completed REAP applications are June 15 and June 30, depending on the type of project to be funded.

For information on applying for assistance, contact your local USDA Rural Development office. A list of USDA offices in Kentucky is available at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/StateOfficeAddresses.html.