Federal officials tour small local businesses as they announce USDA grants

Tue, 04/02/2024 - 5:00pm

ROCKPORT — Several Knox and Waldo County small businesses are among 17 recipients of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development grants for Maine farmers and rural small businesses. The grants will help pay for projects that will lower energy costs for the businesses and increase their resilience.

Maine State Director Rhiannon Hampson announced the awards on March 29 at an event in Rockport, where she was joined by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME-01) and Cindy Axne, White House Senior Advisor for Rural Engagement, Delivery and Prosperity.

Prior to announcing the awards, Director Hampson addressed the grant recipients, saying, “As a small business owner myself, I know what it’s like to have bills mounting. When it comes to energy costs, small business owners and farmers can mitigate those costs through renewable energy. It also helps us be part of the climate solution. These investments offer us an opportunity to do something about it, and each one of you who is supporting these projects is a partner in that.”

Each grant recipient is required to match the grant amount with an equal or greater investment in their renewable energy project.  

The Maine investments will impact a range of farms and businesses. (See the full list attached.)

For example:

Brooklin Boat Yard Inc. in Brooklin will install an 86-kilowatt (kW) roof mount solar photovoltaic system. The system will generate 111,722 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. According to Environmental Protection Agency data, this is the equivalent to 54,137 pounds of coal burned or 4,748 gallons of diesel consumed.  

Cedarworks Inc., a manufacturer of children's play equipment with offices in Rockport, will install a 402-kW roof mount solar photovoltaic system on its manufacturing facility in Rockland. The project will generate 374,500 kWh per year. The environmental benefits of the project include the equivalents of 51.6 homes taken off the grid, 297,291 pounds of coal not burned, or 59 cars taken off the road.

Moorit Hill Farm Inc., in Troy, will install a 41-kW roof mount solar system. The farm also operates a fiber mill. The system will generate more than 50,000 kWh per year, which is equivalent to approximately 100% of the anticipated energy use. This is enough clean energy to power nearly five homes, replace 50,000 pounds of burning coal, or replace approximately eight gasoline-powered cars.

SolarLogix LLC, in Belfast, will install a new 94-kW roof mount solar photovoltaic system. It will generate 104,000 kWh (100 percent of the business energy use) per year. This project is expected to save $21,163 per year.

Brian Larkin, president of Brooklin Boat Yard; Josh Emerman, co-owner of Moorit Hill Farm; and Josh Oxley and Rachele Leonard, president and brand manager of SolarLogix respectively, all joined the roundtable discussion hosted by Island Institute in Rockland.

Congresswoman Pingree also recognized the value of transitioning to clean energy for many businesses, noting, “Today it’s a marketing advantage to be able to say, ‘this is a product made with renewable energy and sustainable materials.’ These issues are important to people when they are trying to decide where to make their purchases. In the long run, this is great for our future as a state, it’s great for mitigating climate change, but it’s also great for the bottom line.

The grants and loans released in Maine on March 29 represent approximately 26% of the funds USDA announced nationwide in 44 states. Recognizing the remarkable commitment of Maine businesses to clean energy, Cindy Axne, Senior Advisor for Rural Engagement, Delivery and Prosperity joined Director Hampson in making the grant announcement. She spent the rest of the day in Midcoast Maine touring farms and businesses that have received REAP grants previously. She also participated in a roundtable discussion with business owners, farmers, and nonprofits, at Island Institute in Rockland.

Axne visited Dooryard Farm in Camden and Heiwa Tofu in Rockland, where she learned about the impact of past REAP grants for those businesses. Congresswoman Pingree and Director Hampson joined her in visiting the small businesses and learned that each is planning growth in the year ahead. The farm will be opening a new farmstand, and the tofu producer has plans to expand its facility.

“We’re not going to listen to the adage that ‘you’ve got to get big or get out,’ because that’s now how we grow America,” said Axne in Rockport. Noting the diversity of small businesses in the room and the nonprofits and others providing assistance, Axne went on, “I’m grateful to see what you all are doing. What I’ve noticed that is different from some places I’ve visited is that it seems like there’s a lot more integration with local, nonprofit, state, and federal entities to get folks what they need on the ground here. I’m really impressed by that – that’s not something you see everywhere, and I think that says a lot about the people in Maine.”

Past REAP grant recipients from the area also participated, including Krista Tripp, owner of Aphrodite Oysters; Matthew Mckillop, manager of the Marsh River Cooperative; Wendy Reinemann, co-owner of Guini Ridge Farm; and Steven Swartz, president of AHAVA Holdings LLC.

The meeting was organized to help Senior Advisor Axne learn more about the challenges Maine’s small businesses and farms face in transitioning to clean energy. About twenty people participated, including Congresswoman Pingree. “I deeply appreciate USDA Rural Development’s commitment to partnering with businesses and nonprofit organizations through programs like REAP. The complex challenges confronting Maine’s island and coastal communities and businesses often exceed their capacity to plan and implement solutions,” said Kimberly Hamilton PhD, President of Island Institute. “As federal funding opportunities expand, Island Institute provides capacity for communities to help them implement these important projects.”

Through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) program, USDA provides grants and loans to help ag producers and rural small business owners expand their use of wind, solar and other forms of clean energy and make energy efficiency improvements. CedarWorks Inc. in Rockport, a grant recipient, hosted the REAP announcement event. The company’s employees attended, as well as other grant recipients and representatives of Senator Susan Collins, Senator Angus King, and Congressman Jared Golden.

Director Hampson reflected on the robust representation from Maine’s congressional delegation, saying that it “speaks to the holistic understanding we have that this funding is ours, and these folks help us bring it home. This is your tax money that is being reinvested in the community. The seventeen Maine farms and small businesses that pursued these grants are investing their own capital as well. They are making the transition to renewable energy and game-changing efficiency upgrades. while also reducing overhead costs. These businesses are also part of the climate solution, and we applaud that.”


About REAP:

The Department expects to make additional awards in the coming months. The next deadline for REAP applications is April 1, 2024, followed by July 30, 2024. USDA continues to accept applications and will hold funding competitions quarterly through Sept. 30, 2024. The funding includes $144.5 million for underutilized renewable energy technologies. For additional information on application deadlines and submission details, see the REAP Program Fact Sheet or contact Katrina Shaw, USDA Rural Development Maine State Energy Coordinator (email Katrina.shaw@usda.gov or call 207-990-9129).