By Victoria A. Rocha | ECT Staff Writer
A new national report highlights the success of a Colorado electric cooperative in using a federal farm energy program to boost rural economic development in its town.
Gunnison County Electric Association used a $74,000 grant from the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to launch, organize and equip an energy audit program for rural small businesses.
The two-year energy audit at the Gunnison, Colo., co-op is one of 12 energy-efficiency projects featured in “Farm Energy Success Stories” published by the Environmental Law & Policy Center. The projects deployed several technologies, such as biomass, anaerobic digesters and solar.
In Gunnison, more than three dozen businesses, including restaurants, a yoga studio and a museum, participated in the co-op energy audit in 2010-2012. Each business saved about $5,400 in the 12 months following implementation of the co-op’s energy-efficiency recommendations.
Vicki Spencer, the co-op’s manager of external affairs, spoke at an April 2 webinar about the report.
REAP “really helped us get the program off the ground” and offer audits to businesses for the first time, said Spencer. “Most of our recommendations were simple things they could do,” such as replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs or replacing energy-guzzling water heaters, she said.
The grant program covered costs associated with promotion, training and labor. It also led to the co-op’s hiring of an energy audit specialist to “carry the program forward,” said Spencer.
The co-op’s success underscores “just how significant energy costs are to small businesses, especially in large parts of the Midwest reliant on propane,” said webinar moderator Andy Olsen, the center’s senior policy advocate.
The 2014 Farm Bill provides $50 million a year for REAP. Two funding announcements will be issued this year, one for unused funds from previous years and the other for annual Farm Bill funds, according to Olsen.
Not to be confused with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program, REAP provides cost-sharing grants and loan guarantees, but no loans. Also, REAP funds go directly to agricultural producers and rural small businesses, including co-ops.