Federal grants are fueling solar panel projects at several Mid-Missouri businesses.
The United States Department of Agriculture announced on Dec. 15 a $169,191 investment in Mid-Missouri that will be used to help nine businesses reduce their carbon footprints and install more energy-efficient systems.
The grant money, ranging from $2,500 to $38,000, will touch a wide range of businesses, from a turkey farmer in California to dental offices in Jefferson City and Fulton.
“People living in rural America are on the front lines of climate change, and our communities deserve investments that will strengthen our nation’s resilience,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release. “President Biden has created a roadmap for how we can fight the climate crisis and expand access to renewable energy infrastructure while creating good-paying jobs and saving people energy costs. These investments underscore the commitment of the Biden-Harris administration to ensure that economic security and prosperity funding and resources to rural people and communities across the country to help improve
For Donita’s Cakes & Catering, the $20,000 grant it was awarded didn’t cover enough costs for the Jefferson City-based business to move forward with its renewable energy project.
Donita’s Cakes & Catering received a $20,000 award to purchase and install a 29.7-kilowatt solar energy system that will replace about 35 percent of the company’s energy use with renewable energy, saving the business about $3,086 a year, according to the USDA.
Manager Misty Schroeder said the company canceled the project after learning it would be out of pocket for the solar panels at least $60,000.
According to the Center for Sustainable Energy, the average cost of solar panels is $15,000 to $20,000 for a typical five-kilowatt system, meaning Donita’s Cakes & Catering was looking at a total cost of $90,000 to $120,000 to replace a third of its energy use.
“We just felt that the investment in it wasn’t worth our return,” Schroeder said, adding, “We didn’t feel like the money was enough to do a project of this magnitude.”
Schroeder said he still encourages business owners and residents to look into renewable energy and outside financing opportunities to help add it to their businesses.
“There are a lot of possibilities, but with anything, you have to see what’s best for your business and your situation,” he said.
Several projects funded through the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program have approached the $100,000 range.
For example, a Pennsylvania poultry farm that provides fertile eggs for influenza vaccine production received about $98,500 to replace 247,071 kilowatts of energy per year, enough to power 22 homes each year.
To date, USDA has spent a total of $285 million in funding for approximately 844 projects designed to help farmers, agricultural producers and entrepreneurs improve energy efficiency in 46 states.
Additional Mid-Missouri grant recipients include:
• $38,175 for Winn-Sapp Ventures, owners of Woody’s Pub & Grill in Ashland, to install a solar array that replaces 72 percent of the restaurant’s annual energy consumption;
• $32,486 to install solar energy systems at Cherry Hill Dental’s Jefferson City and Fulton offices, replacing more than 88 percent of the company’s annual energy use;
• $20,000 for California turkey producer William Tyler Dicus to install energy-efficient lighting, heating, ventilation and insulation in two turkey barns, replacing more than 41 percent of the farm’s annual energy use;
• $20,000 for the purchase and installation of solar arrays that replace 83 percent of Rost Landscaping and Design’s annual energy use in Columbia;
• $20,000 for Danuser, a Fulton-based equipment manufacturer, to install a solar array that replaces more than 76 percent of the company’s annual energy consumption;
• $12,375 for Truescape Properties, a Fulton real estate development and management company, to install a solar array that will transition the company entirely to renewable energy;
• $3,655 for Fulton grape grower John Humphreys to install a solar energy system that will transition his farm entirely to renewable energy; and
• $2,500 for Michael Shaefer Remodeling, a Jefferson City-based construction business, to install solar panels that replace 92 percent of the company’s annual energy use.
Truescape Properties declined an interview request about the grant’s impact on the business.
USDA boosts rural energy efforts by allocating another $300 million through the Rural Energy for America Program. The deadline for applying for a share of these funds is March 31, 2023, and for technical assistance grants, January 31, 2023.