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Farmers Are Reaping the Benefits of Solar in Pennsylvania

By Daniel Blottenberger

The pandemic and subsequential inflation forced many farmers to find ways to keep their businesses viable.

For Benjamin Barnett, a seven-year farmer and owner of Marsh Run Farm, in Waynesboro, Pa., he decided to pivot his farming operation from boarding horses to dairy and cow breeding services. 

“Most farmers in the area are forced to take on second and sometimes third jobs to pay for their farms,” Barnett said. He began to investigate alternative funding streams for his farm that could help manage rising costs.

Enter the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program or REAP administered through Rural Development. 

With a $57,139 Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) grant, the Barnett family was able to purchase and install a 58.2-kilowatt (kW) solar photovoltaic system. They were assisted by Paradise Energy, who handled construction of the 58.2-kilowatt (kW) solar photovoltaic system. Now the energy bill for the farm’s day-to-day operation is zero. 

“Having equity is something all farmers take for granted – because it’s just something we have to do – owning your own power is a new form of equity for young farmers – it’s a lot different than what grandad did – he did the best he could but now you can own your own power,” Barnett said. 

The project is expected to save the farm approximately $5,500 per year and will replace 50,148 kWh per year, enough to power four homes in Franklin County.

“The REAP grant was a make-or-break benefit that I was able to utilize,” he said. 

Luckily, farmers and small businesses throughout the Commonwealth are taking advantage of USDA’s energy efficiency programs. 

“Solar projects are proving to have massive returns on investment for Pennsylvanians that elect to go this route,” State Director for Rural Development Bob Morgan said. “Not only are these projects saving costs for rural businesses and ag producers, but they are pushing the energy efficiency improvements that we need in America.”

By the numbers, more and more Pennsylvanians are utilizing USDA’s REAP program. In fiscal year 2023, USDA invested in 175 projects for more than $22.4 million. Thus far, in the current fiscal year, 90 projects were funded for $15.1 million. 

These projects advance President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to grow the nation’s economy from the middle out and bottom up. They will create jobs and spur economic growth in rural communities by increasing competition in agricultural markets, lowering costs and build more clean energy projects.

USDA is still pushing to get these programs and funding to where they are needed most in rural America.

“I’d tell other farmers to look into it and see if it’s worth their time – it was for me,” Barnett said. 

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