Not Bad

USDA ends REAP year with $3 million for blender pumps
By Kris Bevill | October 18, 2011

Considering it was the first year that the USDA allowed Rural Energy for America Program funds to be used for blender pump installations, and considering that officials had just two months to get the word out to potential applicants and guide them through the process, the end result was not bad. In total, blender pump projects received less than $3 million of the total $38.6 million in REAP grants and loans the USDA awarded to hundreds of projects in rural areas throughout the U.S. this year. But 54 blender pump projects, and even more actual pumps, will be installed as a result of the funding assistance.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has been an aggressive crusader for the expansion of biofuels infrastructure since last fall when he declared a goal of establishing 10,000 blender pumps throughout the U.S. over the course of five years. In announcing the REAP awards, he noted that the expansion of biofuels infrastructure supports the Obama administration’s vision of building a clean energy economy and providing much-needed jobs for people in rural areas. “This funding is an important part of the Obama administration’s plan to help the nation’s farmers, agricultural producers and rural small businesses conserve natural resources, create more green jobs and lead us on the path to becoming an energy independent nation,” he said.

While there are notably few blender pumps across the country, agriculture-centric Midwestern states have the greatest numbers, and that is also where most of the REAP funding will be used to install more. In Wisconsin, for example, United Cooperative plans to use a $448,500 REAP grant to install 33 ethanol blender pumps and 17 biodiesel dispensers in the south-central part of the state. Six projects in Missouri received a total of more than $290,000 in REAP grants. Meanwhile California, which has more flex-fuel vehicles on the road than any other state, received just $135,000 for four projects. One unfortunate caveat to the REAP program that automatically rules out urban applicants is that projects must be located in areas with populations of 50,000 or less in order to qualify. Vilsack made it known that he was aware of this issue when he announced the first round of REAP awards in August and said that USDA officials were working with other programs within the agency to determine whether other types of funding could be made available. 

—Kris Bevill