Solar for farms and rural small businesses
Solar offers a number of benefits for farms. Going solar helps you lock in your energy costs by taking control of where your electricity comes from.
Now is a great time to go solar. The cost of going solar has dropped more than 60% over the last decade. There’s also a new opportunity to receive support to help you go solar.
The USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) offers grants and loans to make solar more affordable. These grants are for up to 50% of the system cost and loans are available through a competitive application process. The Inflation Reduction Act quadrupled funding for the program. The USDA has also increased the number of application windows per year to four (quarterly) through 2024. This means there is more opportunity to secure funding to add solar to your farm or rural business. Grant funding can also be combined with the Federal Tax Credit and the accelerated depreciation (MACRS). Both are available to businesses installing solar energy equipment. This is why we’ve developed a first-of-its-kind guide to help you apply for the program.
Paying for solar
There are two ways you can pay for solar, depending on where you live:
- Direct ownership
- Third-party ownership (if available in your state)
Direct ownership means you, the farm owner, will purchase the system for your property. You will own all of its electrical output. Direct ownership of a system makes sense for your farm, if:
- you are able to raise funds for the cost of the project
- can pay cash up front, or
- get access to specific state incentives and grants.
Under third-party ownership, a separate entity owns and operates the solar system. These entities could be a solar developer or a group of community investors. You would then pay the third party for the monthly electricity produced by the solar system. The third party will benefit from the federal tax credit and any additional incentives. They then pass the savings on to you. Third-party ownership is only available in certain states. See the list here.
How we can help you go solar
We are a nonprofit, not a solar installer or sales company. Our experts are unbiased and independent. Our Solar Help Desk can help you review installer proposals. We can answer questions like:
- How much will my solar system cost?
- Should I install a rooftop or ground mounted system?
- How can I finance my solar project
- How do I choose an installer?
- What permits and approvals will I need?
If you decide that you would like more support, we offer consulting services. We’ll advise and advocate for you throughout the entire process. We can provide expert, vendor-neutral information to help you understand your options and compare proposals from solar installers. We also help identify and apply for grant opportunities and guaranteed loan-financing programs available for agricultural producers.
Our team is ready to help you qualify for financing assistance for your solar energy projects.
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“The REAP program was a deciding factor.” Tommye Rafes, who went solar as part of Solar United Neighbors’ Lewisburg (WV) Solar Co-op in 2017. Tommye and her husband Richard installed a 21kW solar array on their farm, TL Fruits & Vegetables, with the help of a USDA REAP grant. She estimates the investment will pay for itself within about six years.
“[REAP] could be an answer to more rural businesses trying to stay in business.” Debby Kay of Chilbrook Kennels in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Kay used REAP funding to add a 7.2kW ground-mounted solar array and battery storage to her business in 2017.
“We wouldn’t have done it without the REAP grant.” Jennifer Kahly of Possum Tail Farm in Terra Alta, West Virginia. Jennifer and her husband used REAP to add a 18.3kW rooftop solar array and an Electric Vehicle charger for customers to their farm in 2018.
- Ready, Set, Solar! – Sign up for this timed, email-based series that leads you step-by-step through taking your organization solar.
- Get help going solar with USDA REAP grant funding. Download our REAP guide (English & Spanish).
- Learn more about USDA REAP with our webinar recording (English and Spanish).
- Contact the Solar Experts at our Help Desk to get hands-on support.
- USDA website map to see if your rural business is in an eligible area (NOTE: Qualifying farms are available regardless of location).
- USDA REAP FAQ (at the bottom of the page)
- USDA State Energy Coordinator contact list
- REAP Success Stories from Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC)
- The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) On-Farm Energy Initiative provides financial assistance for farmers and ranchers to analyze energy use and improve energy efficiency on the farm.
- The Colorado Energy Office’s Agricultural Energy Efficiency (AgEE) program provides a turnkey approach – including a no-cost energy audit and technical assistance – to help Colorado ag producers increase on-farm economic and environmental sustainability.
- Minnesota‘s Clean Energy Resource Teams connect farmers with the resources they need to save energy and take advantage of renewable energy resources like solar.