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Kentucky farmers eligible for grants to fund clean energy projects

Solar Panels on a Gazebo at Gallrein Farms
Giselle Rhoden
Since receiving the REAP grant, Gallrein Farms has installed solar panels on its front Gazebo and on the roof of its main entrance building.

Rural Kentucky farmers are eligible for a federal program that will help fund the cost of clean energy projects.

Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program, farmers and rural small business owners could receive a grant to fund 50% of the cost of clean energy projects.

The funds can be used for energy production including solar, wind and hydro power, and for energy efficiency improvements on buildings, like lighting, doors, windows and insulation.

Gallrein Farms in Shelbyville received REAP funding this week. The grant, priced at $111,778, will help install more solar panels on the property.

“We'll be able to utilize [the grant] to greater fund projects that we'd like to do at the farm, possibly buy new equipment, upgrade equipment, expand our greenhouses, expand our market, and continue to provide the community as well,” said Gallrein Farm’s manager Gabriella Gallrein.

With the solar panel installation, Gallrein Farms expects to save more than $14,000 a year in energy costs, according to USDA Rural Development State Director Tom Carew.

“[The grant] can really help the bottom line,” Carew said Monday. “It can help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. And it's a boost to the economy.”

Funding comes from the Biden Administration's Inflation Reduction Act, which supports clean energy initiatives to combat the ongoing climate crisis. Kentucky is becoming hotter and wetter due to climate change induced by the burning of fossil fuels.

Last year, the renewable energy projects funded by the IRA saved Kentucky more than $3 billion, according to a report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee.

Ken Slattery is an energy consultant for EightTwenty, the Indiana-based solar panel installer for Gallrein Farms. He said the IRA is the reason solar energy is more affordable.

“We need that kind of support from the federal government,” Slattery said. “This system [at Gallrein] without a grant would have paid for itself in nine or 10 years. With the grant, it pays for itself almost immediately.”

Gallrein Farms, like many farms, burns fossil fuels to keep it running, Gallrein said, and she hopes a renewable energy source — like the solar panels — can combat their carbon footprint.

“I think a lot of people don't realize how substantial energy is to a business,” Gallrein said. “And especially a business such as this where we have a market. We have over 10 greenhouses. We have grain bins. We have all of this equipment. And we need energy for that. So it's just nice to see how [solar] energy can be used to help run this place.”

Applications for REAP are available online from the end of June through September. Applicants must own a business in a town with a population of 50,000 people or less.

Giselle is LPM's breaking news reporter. Email Giselle at grhoden@lpm.org.

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