OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

New energy assessment program available to Oregon farmers, rural businesses

06/17/2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Energy Efficiency Center at Oregon State University is now making its services available to Oregon farmers and rural businesses.

The new program in rural energy assessments is open to any small rural Oregon business or farm – as defined by the Small Business Administration – that makes more than half of its gross income from agriculture. The business or farm must be located in a defined rural area, which includes most of the state except major cities.

Those using the program save an average of 10 percent of their annual facility energy use, officials say.

A pilot program, supported by the Sun Grant initiative at OSU, proved the efficacy of rural energy assessments for agricultural businesses such as dairies and nurseries, as well as vegetable and seed farms. The new initiative is being supported by a two-year grant from the Rural Energy for America Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and its services are available immediately.

“We can work with small farms or larger agricultural operations that spend anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on energy,” said Nathan Keeley, manager of the new program and a mechanical engineering graduate student at OSU.

“There are many cases where we can really help farmers and businesses improve their bottom line, and a general goal we work toward is energy savings of 10 percent or more,” he added.

This is an expansion for the OSU Energy Efficiency Center from a similar initiative supported by the Department of Energy for industrial clients. During the past 24 years, that Industrial Assessment Program recommended more than $18 million of savings for local industrial clients.

About 75 percent of the actual cost of the rural energy assessments will be paid for by the federal government, leaving only a flat fee of $370 for any farm or business operation. Support is also available for project implementation from various incentive programs and through the USDA directly. For eligibility in the new program, a “small rural business” will generally be defined as one with fewer than 500 employees and revenue of less than $6.5 million.

Many farming practices require large amounts of energy, for uses that range from irrigation pumps to refrigeration of dairy products, operating farm machinery or heating greenhouses. Savings can be obtained by installing more efficient systems, running equipment less often, generating renewable energy, increasing productivity and reducing waste. Different ways of using fuel, fertilizer and farm equipment can all save money; running a tractor at less than full throttle in a higher gear, for instance, can save 10-25 percent in fuel cost.

“We’ve known for a long time that there are opportunities to save a lot of energy in the rural sector, and there has always been interest, but until now we had no way to meet that need,” Keeley said. “In difficult economic times these savings can be increasingly important.”

The rural energy assessments include facility tours, data collection, meetings, an estimate of implementation costs and payback periods, and a final report. More information can be obtained by calling 541-737-3004 or email, ruralenergyaudits@engr.orst.edu