Funding for rural renewable energy projects slashed

Vern Spaur of SPS of Oregon used a REAP grant to help fund a hydropower turbine in an irrigation ditch that generates about $700 worth of electricity per month.

Vern Spaur of SPS of Oregon, shown here with his son Vern Spaur, Jr., used a REAP grant to help fund a hydropower turbine in an irrigation ditch that generates about $700 worth of electricity per month.

A key program that funds energy diversification and efficiency in Oregon’s rural areas has seen it’s funding slashed for the upcoming year. The Rural Energy for America Program, commonly called REAP, funded anaerobic digesters for the first time last year, as well as small-scale hydropower projects.

But the program, which receives much of its funding from the federal Farm Bill, will see a reduction of about two thirds of its funding levels following deep cuts at the federal level.

REAP funded 36 projects in Oregon in 2011, from grants totaling $1.29 million. One recent project at Northeastern Oregon auto retailer SPS of Oregon was atypical only for its use of small-scale hydro.

SPS owner Vern Spaur said he used a $19,695 REAP grant combined with tax breaks and other incentives to fund a $75,000, 10.5 kilowatt turbine in an irrigation ditch. SPS is located between Wallowa and Lostine, and the ditch runs 7 miles from the Lostine River.

Spaur, with his family, runs a salvage yard and repair shop along that stretch, and also a small ranching operation that used to be a larger part of business. Working repair and salvage jobs for insurance companies, custom repair and towing, SPS spends mightily on power. But with the 10.5-kilowatt hydro turbine, Spaur said, those costs are reduced.

“Overall, throughout the whole year, it will match the power that we’re using,” he said. “During peak demands I can spend $1,000 a month on power and this will generate $700 a month.”

The turbine sends surplus power to a utility through a grid intertie, banking energy credits for later use. Spaur now plans a second turbine in the ditch to power heat for the shop.

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Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.

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