Grants Make Greenhouse Projects Possible

money tree, money doesnt grow on trees

With energy costs ranking as one of the top concerns for greenhouse growers, it makes sense to take advantage of energy-efficient equipment and technology. But the cost of retrofitting or adding new equipment can be cost-prohibitive, and it’s often difficult to come up with the capital, even though the savings will be greater in the long-term.

REAP Program Changes To Help Small Businesses

There have been several changes in the past five years in the Rural Energy For America Program (REAP) that increase the chances for a smaller grower to receive a grant.

“There’s been a general change to this program,” says Dan Kuipers, solar sales manager and grant specialist with TrueLeaf Technologies. “In the first couple of years I wrote applications, it was much easier to get very large grants. We received numerous half-million dollar grants for people. It was a situation where the big growers had the resources to hire a professional and get a huge grant, and meanwhile, the smaller operations and the retailers never had a chance. They just didn’t have the resources to put a package together that would complete with the more professionally done applications. The USDA did recognize that, and subsequently has made some changes to the rules. It’s much more common now for smaller projects to be funded.”
Smaller projects cost less than $200,000. The application has been shortened and simplified, and smaller businesses receive preferential scoring, evening the playing field.

The location of the business also used to play a part, but that has changed as well. Kuipers says that in the past, this program was targeted only to rural communities. Growers and agricultural producers in urban areas were not eligible.

“They have subsequently changed the rule, and I have even heard there may be a focus on getting more of these [urban] projects funded as the program moves into the future,” he says.

This is where government utility-based incentives can play a role. These programs are designed to provide and incentive and make it more feasible for businesses to make investments in energy-saving technology, thus helping to reduce energy consumption overall. Incentives come in several forms. In order to take advantage of incentives, growers need to become educated about how to apply and what types of projects are usually funded.

Types Of Incentives

“There are three types of incentives,” says Dan Kuipers, solar sales manager and grant specialist with TrueLeaf Technologies, a supplier of heating, irrigation and other greenhouse control systems. Kuiper previously has spent five years as owner of Sustainable Energy Financing (SEF), a consulting firm that helps growers with financing strategies for energy-efficiency, renewable-energy or water-conservation projects.

“There are federal tax credits and other benefits that vary state by state. There are also rebates, or what I call the utility-based incentives, which are offered by individual utility companies. They’re usually driven by state legislation or the state public service commission, which mandate that utilities offer incentives programs based on renewable and energy-efficient technology.”

Kuipers says rebates are usually fairly easy to get. Growers should talk with their utility company and see what is available in their area. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) at dsireusa.org lists available rebates by state and utility.

The third incentive category is grants.

“Grants can offer a very significant injection of cash into a project,” Kuipers says. “The problem with grants is that they usually require a lot of paperwork. Sometimes they need to involve third parties to do energy audits. But the biggest thing is that they’re competitive in nature. They’re not guaranteed.”

Look At The Big Picture Before Applying

“Usually the larger the project in terms of dollars, the more complicated the grants get, and the more difficult it is,” Kuipers says. “There are companies that will guide people through the process. It’s an art form. In my opinion, growers need to focus on what they do best, and that’s grow things, not try to become an author. Grant reviewers can be very picky, and certain components need to be included. Missing what may appear to be minute details may have some broad-reaching implications. Reviewers look for reasons to really distinguish between those applicants that get funded and those that don’t.”

Fundable Projects

The types of projects most likely to receive funding varies widely depending upon the state or even the utility company, but often include:
1. Lighting
2. Envelope/structural improvements, i.e. retrofitting
3. Energy curtains
4. Installing high-efficiency unit heaters, LEED condensing boilers
5. Changing heat distribution systems (hot air to hydronic, for example)
6. Renewable energy projects such as solar or biomass, wind projects
7. Conservation measures such as rainwater catchment systems or retention ponds
8. Recycling

Kuipers says one big mistake growers commonly make is starting to build the project or putting a down payment on equipment, and then applying for a grant hoping to get some extra funds. If you’re looking at a project related to energy, environmental improvement or water conservation, it’s important that growers evaluate and apply for incentives before spending any money.

“The goal of a grant is to make projects possible that wouldn’t happen otherwise,” Kuipers says. “The thinking is, ‘Why do you need an extra boost from us if you’ve already purchased the equipment? There are other applicants more deserving.’”

Choose Projects Carefully

Determining the benefits is key to deciding whether you should invest the time in applying for a grant, Kuipers says. “I always encourage people to apply for grants if it fits within their timeline and if they have a good project — one that has a realistic chance of being funded.”

 However, the tantalizing idea of a grant can also be detrimental. Growers sometimes hold off on projects that would have immediate benefits, hoping for a grant to offset even more of the cost.

“The downside of that is they might find out six or nine months later they didn’t get funded,” Kuipers says. “So a grower may get into a cycle where maybe they go two or three heating seasons using equipment they know they shouldn’t be using because they’re waiting for a grant to sweeten the deal. And in that three years they’ve lost a lot of money on the efficiency side.”

Do The Homework

Projects with a long payback time are the ones that should be funded with grants, Kuipers says. “When you’re looking at technologies that make incremental improvements to efficiency, or less mature technoligies where the cost is still coming down — those generally are the types of projects where grant money is truly needed,” he says. “And that’s when you should hold out and wait to see if you’ve been funded.”

Reviewers are careful about choosing grant recipients, Kuipers says, because they have to do a lot of work as well. “Reviewers want to know what the payback is. They want to make sure that if they’re going to give you a grant or rebate, you have the ability to obtain the rest of your financing. It’s also important that you’re able to talk about co-benefits such as reducing greenhouse gases, job creation and environmental benefits. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) program, for example, requires that a letter from your state energy office that says, ‘We are in support of this project because it meets the environmental goals of our state.’”
Kuipers also recommends that growers obtain a third-party energy audit, because it provides an unbiased opinion of the project and how much energy it will save.

Leave a Reply

11 comments on “Grants Make Greenhouse Projects Possible

  1. To whom it may concern, My wife and I are looking to make a self sufficient home in MO and the first step we are looking at doing is a green house. I have heard there were grants and/or some kind of financial aid for this, if so would you be able to point me in the right direction. Sincerely, Chris and Wendy Lee

  2. Respected Sir / Ma'm…..I have a plot and i am interested to build a greenhouse on it.So can i get grant from government or can i get any help from government??

  3. I'm interested in building two hot houses for tomatoes, cucumbers & squash. Is there a program from the government to help build. I'm a small business that sells at local framers market.

  4. I am interested in a pyramid shaped greenhouse. I want to grow herbs and teach humans how to help themselves with herbs.

  5. my wife and I are trying to build a big green house we have four acres of land and would like to try to find a grant to help us with this project. can you help with any ideas thank you Joe Crowder,

  6. Our's is a voluntary organization working in the field of Non conventional Energy Development projects.Now we plan to manufacture ready made fiber plants and install it to the rural farmers with production cost only, who has the cow dung resources. Can we apply for grant or loan to implement a sustainable project.

  7. Dear Madams /Sirs: We are starting to look at a curriculum-based course of SCIENCE studies over the K-8 and the High school (9-12) curriculum that would fully embrace a green, GREEN HOUSE. We are looking for grants and any means for funding our all-male , Catholic school for our good and then to share with the out-reach to inner city school students we are in service with. The actual conservatory green house to maintain it through a North East winter school season, and two roof-stretches of SOLAR PANEL roofing possibilities as well.

  8. hello, am happy to learn this and willing to join and transform my family members please out of poverty. help me out please God bless you as you reply my request.

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