Value-Added Producer Grant Program Training

Recorded Webinar Training Available on the
2016 Value-Added Producer Grant Program for California


A recorded webinar training on USDA Rural Development's Value-Added Producer Grant program is now available for California applicants and other interested parties. The Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) funds planning and working capital expenses to help agricultural producers process and market new products, expand into new markets, and strengthen the rural economy.

The VAPG program is now accepting applications for the FY 2016 cycle. Applications are due by mail to the Rural Development California State Office by July 1, 2016.

Topics Covered:
  • Applicant Eligibility
  • Project Eligibility
  • Purpose Eligibility
  • Other Requirements
  • Evaluation Criteria
  • Tools for Applicants
Webinar Information:
For more information about the Value-Added Producer Grant, visit our website. Questions? Please contact our VAPG Coordinator, Martin Zone, at or (530) 792-5829.

Money Monday: Smart Grid Funding

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on October 11 announced funding to modernize and improve the efficiency of rural electric generation and transmission systems. The announcement includes additional loan support of $134 million in Smart Grid technologies in 16 states. The selected projects are located in Alabama, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. 

In September, the USDA reportedthat it had met its goal to finance $250 million in Smart Grid technologies in fiscal year 2012.

USDA also announced nearly $264 million in loans to partially finance wood-burning plants in Colorado, Hawaii, and Texas that are expected to generate 69 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Additionally, $14,565,000 was announced to finance the construction of a 5.5 MW solar-powered generating facility in Maryland.

In California, Kirkwood Meadows Public Utility District received $50,000,000 to build or improve 40 miles of lines for distribution and transmission, and to make other improvements to their aging system.  

To learn more link to the USDA press release here

photo credit: arbyreed via photopin cc

Photo credit:

Making use of wasted space with solar and clean energy

Sometimes, what seems to be wasted space isn't.

Take road medians, rights-of-ways, military bases and airports for example. More studies are showing those regions, which are often off limits or seemingly unusable, could be sites for placing solar arrays, wind turbines or crops for biofuel.

This NPR story talks about the huge potential for solar arrays on the vast expanses of military bases. This suggests lining roadways with solar panels, and this USDA report, released in January, says locating alternative power at airports could be an ideal compromise to habitat and land conflicts that plague renewable energy projects.

From the report: "with careful planning, locating alternative energy projects at airports could help mitigate many of the challenges currently facing policy makers, developers, and conservationists. "

It makes sense. Wildlife isn't wanted at airports, and development of property in the flight path is discouraged. Officials at my hometown airport in Fresno, Calif., were way ahead of the game when they had solar panels installed in 2008.

The panels, placed on land near runways that was previous unusable, are shaving millions off the power bill. The USDA report showcases the Fresno installation and notes it supplies about 60% of the airport's power. Any surplus energy is resold.

Read more here. Meadows Field in Bakersfield and Denver International Airport also have solar arrays.

The USDA study says airports are "one of the few land holdings where reductions
in wildlife abundance and habitat quality are necessary and socially acceptable, and where regulations discourage traditional (crop) production." (Did you know economic losses from wildlife/aircraft collisions are estimated at $600 million annually in the United States?)

Authors of the USDA report, while citing the solar airport examples, note they are not aware of any biofuel production at airports. That could be because officials are afraid the crops would attract wildlife. However, several airports already lease land to farmers who grow such crops as corn. And opportunity exists, at least in terms of land size. The study found that only 10% of the 50 U.S. states had median farm sizes larger airport grasslands.

The authors also note that turf near runways sometimes attract geese and other birds. The report suggests that converting that land to switchgrass or other types of cellulosic feedstock could be an option. "Field research likely could identify productive biofuel crops that, from a wildlife perspective, are compatible with safe airport operations," the authors state, citing other studies.

For more, here is a CleanTechnica post that serves as a good overview.

We're starting to see much more in this area. Solar, for example, is showing up on farms, on roadway pilot projects, on parking garages, city wastewater treatment plants, and on county jails and state prisons. The military is going full speed ahead on renewables, while corporate America, professional sports (hello, baseball season) and others are moving ahead on sustainability programs.

Watch for solar and other types of renewable energy to show up in even more places. Wouldn't it be great if this nation took a space race approach, as my colleague put it so well in this blog, to clean energy and energy efficiency?

Fresno airport solar savings graphic provide by City of Fresno

Farmers Get Help Reducing Power Bills

Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are among the most productive in the world, producing $20 billion worth of food and fiber annually. They use a lot of energy - as this blog pointed out - and could benefit in a big way from programs that cut power consumption.

Some have already taken steps to curb energy use by installing solar panels, cutting water use and taking other measures. But others may want to consider participating in this United States Department of Agriculture program that helps them get energy audits, and possibly help cut costs even more.

We at the non-profit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization in Fresno believe energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to join the green-energy movement. It's been proven time after time that minimal investments result in maximum returns.

In fact, Steven Chu, head of the U.S. Department of Energy, has altered a favorite line of energy conservationists. He's gone from saying energy efficiency is the "low-hanging fruit" of the green-energy movement to saying it is "fruit on the ground."

So, let's get picking.

photo from