Rural NH businesses can get cheaper clean energy from new federal funding

Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden looks at an array of solar panels during a tour at the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative, Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Plymouth, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

By Elaina Bedio

December 6, 2023

Ever thought of upgrading your business to be more energy efficient? Thanks to new federal funding, rural communities in New Hampshire now have more access to a program that could cover half the cost of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

US Rep. Ann Kuster announced recently that nearly $500,000 in funding was heading to Clean Energy NH, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting policies and programs that support clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives in New Hampshire.” 

The funds will support their work in assisting small businesses and agricultural producers in the state’s rural communities with energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. 

It’s part of President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which Kuster supported, and went into effect on January 1st of this year.

The IRA is “the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history, offering funding, programs, and incentives to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy and will likely drive significant deployment of new clean electricity resources,” per the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The IRA will direct more federal funding than ever to the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) which will, in turn, use them to support energy efficiency projects for small businesses and farms. 

Up until now, under REAP, these businesses could apply for funding to make energy efficiency upgrades and have 25% of the project cost covered. Now it’s double that.

“What the IRA did was supercharge it,” said Sam Evans-Brown, Executive Director at Clean Energy NH. “With the passage of the IRA, that 25% has been bumped up to 50%. There are many more opportunities to apply. They’ve essentially doubled the amount of money and doubled the windows of opportunity.”

As a result of the IRA, $499,128 will be sent to Clean Energy NH. Why? Evans-Brown explained that previous efforts, like the American Rescue Plan of 2021, were packaged as a stimulus. 

“I think one of the big lessons from that experience was you can put stimulus out in the economy, but sometimes people will struggle to access it because it’s confusing, he said. “Applying for federal money is confusing and hard. So if all you do is just pump money into the economy, the people who will tend to get it will be the entities that have familiarity with applying for federal money. And so it tends to go to a lot of the same old folks.”

That is where Clean Energy NH comes in. They will deploy REAP specialists who will go out and help businesses in smaller, more rural communities apply for these grants to fund their energy efficiency projects. The added bonus? REAP being a longstanding program, the infrastructure is already established. 

As Evans-Brown noted, “We don’t have to re-explain or reintroduce small businesses to REAP and instead we just need to funnel more applications into the pipeline.”

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Qualifying projects are too numerous to list but examples include high efficiency heating, lighting, insulation, replacement of energy inefficient equipment, and even doors and windows. 

“It could be putting solar on the roof of your facility. It could be a methane digester. It could be geothermal. There are a lot of eligible technologies,” explained Evans-Brown.

Representatives of Clean Energy NH will be making the rounds at chambers of commerce, the Northeast Organic Farmer’s Association, the New Hampshire Farm Bureau, and other gatherings to spread the word that they are ready to help with the application process for these funds. 

“So if farmers read your article and are interested in pursuing a grant, they should simply reach out to us and we can get them in the program because they are already eligible and, frankly, have been for years, ” he said.

Long before the passage of the IRA, Clean Energy NH has been utilizing what is known as “circuit riders” who do similar work for New Hampshire municipalities. Established in 2019, the Circuit Rider program provides New Hampshire towns with experts at no cost who help them apply for grants for their energy efficiency projects.

The benefits of these projects cannot be overstated. 

“These significant resources will help support rural small business owners and farmers throughout our state install energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems, lowering costs, creating resiliency in the face of extreme weather, and building a greener future for all,” said Congresswoman Kuster.

Shortly after the IRA was signed into law last year, the White House released a statement that laid out several anticipated benefits specifically for New Hampshire including lower energy costs, good-paying jobs, increased domestic manufacturing, tax credits and energy cost savings for small businesses, cleaner air, and resilient communities.

If you are the owner of a small business or farm looking to make energy efficiency or energy renewal upgrades and would like help in applying for grants, reach out to Clean Energy NH via their website or by sending an email to [email protected].

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