The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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Food & Health

October 8, 2013

Federal boost for farms' renewal energy in doubt

(Continued)

Ridgely's solar panels cost him about $100,000, but he got a $10,000 state grant for the first 70 and a $13,000 federal grant for this year's panels. He figures both systems will eventually pay for themselves.

Since 2003, the federal program has spent nearly $700 million on about 9,000 projects, ranging from energy-efficient grain dryers to solar panels to windmills.

Doug O'Brien, chief of the USDA's energy division, said there has been a conscious effort to diversify the projects. Recipients include rural electric cooperatives, vineyards, nurseries, dairies and stores. Gutting the program will make it hard for many farmers and rural businesses to get started, he said.

Chin, the Oregon farmer, said solar energy is helping him keep his production costs down. He began installing panels on his irrigation pumps and potato storage cellar when his electricity bills rose fivefold after the expiration of a rate agreement with a hydropower company. The federal program helped pay for three of the 12 solar systems he installed.

"If I wasn't doing it, I would have to charge you more for potatoes," said Chin, 59, whose family has been farming in the Klamath Basin since 1930.

It's unclear how hard agricultural interests will fight for continued funding if it means jeopardizing more important programs, like crop insurance, said Moore, whose organization has supported both the Senate and House bills.

"It's important but it's not something we're going to burn the barn down over," he said.

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