US agriculture secretary Ann Veneman today announced the availability of approximately $23 million in grants to support the country's energy plan to develop renewable energy systems and promote energy efficiency improvements.
"President Bush wants to bring greater energy independence to our country through expanded use of renewable energy," said Veneman. "These grants will help America's rural businesses meet this need." It is hoped that adopting renewable energy sources would relieve the load on the national grid, and could help manufacturers to reduce operational costs.
The US-based Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has long argued that food manufacturers need to be more aware of energy consumption. Food manufacturers are some of the largest customers of many energy companies - according to EPRI, agricultural production accounts for 18 to 22 per cent of the electrical load in many areas and food processing industries account for an additional 10 per cent of electrical load.
As a result, there has been growing interest in biofuels such as ethanol and soy diesel to power food processing plants. For example, agri-energy programmes that use biomass (crop production) to generate ethanol and distillers' grains are being connected to confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The distillers' grains are being utilised as feed in the CAFOs, and anaerobic digestion is being used to generate methane that is utilised as fuel in the ethanol processes.
Applicants for the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements programme must be agricultural producers or rural small businesses, US citizens or legal residents, and have demonstrated financial need. Rural Development grant funds may be used to pay up to 25 percent of the eligible project costs.
Eligible projects include those that derive energy from a wind, solar, biomass, or geothermal source, or hydrogen derived from biomass or water using wind, solar, or geothermal energy sources.
Applications for the new grants must be completed and submitted with a postmark no later than 75 days from the May 5, 2004 Federal Register publication of the notice of funding availability.
The Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements programme was created to assist small businesses develop renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements to their operations. In 2003, the US government invested $21.7 million to assist 114 applicants from 24 states develop or improve wind power, anaerobic digester, solar, ethanol and other bioenergy related systems or energy efficiency improvements.