Sustainable Ohio Public Energy Council, or SOPEC, held a press conference Thursday to formally announce it is receiving a technical assistance grant, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP.
The conference was held at the Ohio University Innovation Center and included short presentations from Jonathan McCracken, rural development state director for Ohio, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Luke Sulfridge, executive director of SOPEC; and Debbie Phillips, CEO of Rural Action.
REAP is a grant program that helps lower utility costs and provides funds for more energy-efficient projects for farmers and small businesses.
“The point of REAP is to make sure folks in rural Ohio, farmers and small businesses are able to access this program, lower their energy costs and become more efficient to save those dollars on the utility side so you can reinvest in your business or your farm,” McCracken said.
The USDA has awarded a grant of almost $500,000 to SOPEC to enhance the council’s ability to assist farms and small businesses to become more energy-efficient and sustainable.
“This technical assistance grant is made possible via the Inflation Reduction Act, which was supported by President Biden and passed by Congress about a year and a half ago,” McCracken said.
SOPEC will also be partnering with Rural Action, a nonprofit organization that helps develop communities in the Appalachian region, to reach out to as many potential applicants as possible.
"The staff at SOPEC and our partners at Rural Action are excited to assist qualifying applicants in Ohio apply for REAP funding,” Sulfridge wrote in a press kit. “We hope to remove as many barriers as possible to support rural small businesses as they explore their solar options."
Phillips said she believes this program is a tool that can be available to farmers and small businesses to start production or remain in operation, and she is excited her organization is a part of the grant process.
“Rural Action is so pleased to be able to offer this free grant assistance service to farmers and small businesses in Ohio’s rural communities,” Philips wrote in a press kit. “The energy projects USDA REAP funds can be game-changers for these folks, and we are here to help them through the process and beyond.”
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the importance of local and regional farms and businesses and their effect on the supply chain, Phillips said.
“The investment that the Biden administration is making here through inflation reduction acts in these systems helps us to develop greater food security, more profitability for local farms and small businesses and just helps make our communities stronger and more resilient overall,” Philips said.