Gov. Walz, Sec. Vilsack promote rural renewable energy investments

Promote rural renewable energy investments

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(ABC 6 News) – Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Miller’s Market in St. Charles on Thursday to promote the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

The program incentivizes farmers and small businesses to invest in renewable energy to promote energy efficiency, lower costs and create jobs.

The goal of REAP is to make sure no one has to leave their hometown for a chance at economic prosperity.

Minnesota is the number one state taking advantage of REAP funds, and is also home to the largest solar power manufacturer.

Miller’s Market used this program to add new solar panels to its business back in December.

Co-owner Jon Miller estimates the solar panels will reduce energy costs by $15,000 to $20,000. Miller plans to direct those savings right back into the business.

“Employee safe and sick leave time is a huge cost for us in a small business in our size, so this will help offset a small portion of what that’s gonna cost us,” said Miller.

That installation is not only improving energy efficiency at Miller’s Market, but it helped to create more jobs in St. Charles by hiring local contractors.

“Hire local contractors to do the work to provide good jobs for our kids, who should know there’s great work in becoming a skilled electrician, or skilled with wind farming or skilled with solar installation,” said Walz.

Miller’s Market is just one example of what USDA Secretary Vilsack hopes REAP will achieve across the country.

“I think with the REAP program that creates opportunities to lower costs, obviously that’s important,” said Vilsack.

However, some individuals in Winona County worry a lot of REAP funding is really going toward large-scale manure digester operations.

“A lot of these grants, these loans, are like $50,000, compared to these digester loans and grants that are like $1 million,” said Martin More, Policy Organizer with the Land Stewardship Project.

Walz remains committed to making sure these funds go to the rural communities that need help the most.

“Those types of programs, as I said are win-win-wins,” said Walz.