USDA grant program provides funds for rural agricultural solar projects


Two commercial potato farms in Maine are set to receive federal funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the installation of solar PV projects. 

The state is set to receive over $24 million in grants and loans to build renewable energy infrastructure in rural areas, like the two solar facilities built for Irving Farms of Caribou and Corey Rioux & Sons of Fort Kent, Maine.  Irving Farms is receiving more than $150,000 to fund a system large enough to power 44 homes, and Rioux & Sons was granted more than $30,000 for a system large enough to power roughly nine homes. The facilities are planned to power the growing, shipping, and packing operations of the two companies. 

These grants came upon successful application to the Rural Energy for America program, which offers guaranteed loan financing and grant funding for small businesses to install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency upgrades.

(Read: “Which crops pair well with solar?”)

To qualify for the program, applicants must be agricultural producers with at least 50% of their gross income coming from agricultural operations and must be small businesses in eligible rural areas with populations of 50,000 residents or less. Eligible addresses can be checked here. 

Funds can be used to construct solar PV projects, or other renewable energy projects like biomass, geothermal, hydropower, wind, and hydrogen. 

Loan guarantees up to 75% of eligible project costs are available, and up to 25% of project cost can be funded in the form of a grant. Combined funding of loan guarantees and grants can equal up to 75% of eligible project costs.

A study by Purdue University showed that of 400 surveyed farmers, who run operations larger than $500,000 in annual revenue, nearly one-third are aware of solar leasing opportunities for their farmland, and 29% have engaged in discussions with solar companies about leasing their land.

Larger farms benefit from economies of scale and lower prices from larger solar projects. The USDA program offers small farms an opportunity to better compete and to procure lower-cost renewable energy.

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