Rising oil prices and recent power outages due to inclement weather in New Mexico are reminders-America’s energy issues need to be addressed.
America holds only 2% of proven oil resources yet we consume about 25% of the world’s supply. Our dependence on traditional energy supplies puts us at risk from external trends and instability. However, by diversifying our energy portfolio, we can reduce our vulnerability and create a more secure energy future.
The United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development mission oversees loan guarantees, loans and grant programs intended to guide us towards a reliable energy future and help rural America benefit from growing renewable energy industries.
For rural businesses, farms and ranches in communities of 50,000 or less; USDA offers the Rural Energy for America program which finances 25% of the cost of installing a renewable or energy efficient system and can help finance energy efficiency feasibility studies and energy audits.
In 2010, Rocky Mountain Therapy in Raton, NM received a $50,000 grant for the installation of solar panels to provide energy to their physical therapy practice. They saw major energy savings in their electric and gas bills. In the same year, USDA provided a $890,000 package of grant and loan guarantee financing for Haley Farms in Roswell, NM. They constructed a large solar array to power irrigation pumps in their pecan fields.
Rural Development also plays a large role in biofuels; which are solid, liquid or gas fuels derived from biomass that can be used as an additive or alternative to gasoline. Biofuels are not expected to completely supplant gasoline any time soon but they can add to the fuel mix and reduce the volume of our gas imports. Our State is strategically located along major transportation lines for biofuels and we have the potential to produce feed stocks for conversion into fuels.
USDA offers incentives for the establishment of biorefineries and we pay a credit, by the gallon, for the production of biofuels. Last year, USDA Rural Development provided a $50 million loan guarantee to Sapphire energy to build an algae-based diesel biofuels plant in Columbus, New Mexico. We also hope to assist with the sorghum-based ethanol biorefinery in Portales, New Mexico.
New Mexico maintains obvious advantages in solar and wind energy production. For industries producing renewable energy, USDA provides loan guarantees for the establishment of wind farms, solar arrays, geothermal plants, dairy digesters and other renewable sources. Loan guarantees provide the backing of the federal government for lenders seeking to loan to businesses and they are an important tool for business development.
I have mentioned just a few of the programs available from USDA to help facilitate the use of renewable energy. As we look towards America’s energy future, opportunities are available for New Mexico to play an important role in energy independence.
Terry Brunner has served as State Director for USDA Rural Development in New Mexico since September 2009, when he was appointed to the post by President Barack Obama.