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Greenspace: Federal grant program, energy rebates aid rural businesses

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Being a rural business owner can be tough. Fortunately, there are a couple of programs aimed at helping those businesses save energy and save money on their all-important bottom lines.

The federal REAP Grant and rebates from People's Energy Cooperative provide a big incentive to save money on energy-saving projects. And this year might be the best opportunity to take advantage of these offers together.

"The funding cycle didn't happen last year," said Alexis Troschinetz, who works with the Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams. "So two cycles worth of the REAP Grants are available this year."

Nationwide there is approximately $80 million available for REAP Grants and more than $200 million available for REAP Guaranteed Loans, said Ron Omann, state energy and environmental coordinator of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The grant program has a couple of deadlines coming up: a special funding deadline is set for April 30, and the deadline for the grant program as a whole for 2015 is June 30.

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In December, CERT and People's Energy held a presentation for area dairy farmers to let them know about energy efficiency projects that can help them save money and qualify for both the grant program and the rebates. That event drew about 40 area dairy farmers.

"For us to get that outcome at an event with a targeted audience was a big surprise, Troschinetz said.

She said the goal for CERT is to raise awareness about energy programs and help dairy farmers see what projects might be appropriate for the size of their farms. The best part about the projects, she said, is they can immediately help farmers with their monthly energy bills and even help them get better production from their herds.

Part of the reason the talk aimed at dairy farmers can be so successful is that the rebates offered by People's Energy Coop and other area power utilities are aimed right at their needs.

"They know what rebates are important for dairy farmers," she said. "They do energy audits on these farms, so they know what items to be rebated."

While the REAP Grants have a couple of deadlines coming up soon, those rebates from People's Energy are good throughout the year, said Brandon Johnson, the utility's key accounts and energy advisor. And they cover things from appliances to lighting, and motors that save energy.

"Our custom program encompasses everything else that can save energy. Say, a plate cooler or a heat recovery system," Johnson said.

People's works closely with merchants in the region to make sure they are aware of which items they sell are eligible for rebates, then works with customers who buy those items to get their paperwork in and rebates claimed. "They can advertise our program for us," Johnson said. "That will help us reach our goal of 1.5 percent of our kilowatt sales every year in rebates."

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Johnson was also at that meeting in December, and said that the crowd wasn't just treated to a boring talk about rebate and grant programs.

"It gave farmers the opportunity to share their experiences with a piece of equipment. To hear from another farmer that they've had really good results is invaluable," he said.

And in the end, those energy and cost savings can help keep small dairies afloat financially. "It's in our best interest to not lose the energy sales so the member can survive," Johnson said.

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