USDA promotes rural energy investments in Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Capital-Star

SINKING SPRING, Pa.  – To promote President Joe Biden’s “Investing in Rural America” event series, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made two visits in the Keystone State on Thursday, touting the latest round of grants in Pennsylvania. 

The USDA formally announced an additional $3.6 million in grants to help 30 agricultural producers and small business owners in rural Pennsylvania, bringing the total to more than $21.8 million in Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) funds this fiscal year. 

“The Biden-Harris administration is making these kinds of investments in rural communities because we understand that it’s important for folks to have the tools to make a good life, in places where they want to live and places that they love,” said Dr. Karama Neal, USDA administrator of the Rural Business Cooperative Service, at an event at Performance Toyota in Sinking Spring. 

Performance Toyota, a car dealership in Berks County that has been in operation since 1970, was included in the latest round of grants.

The $226,000 grant, made possible in part by the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law in August 2022, will pay for installation of solar panels. 

Jim Blickle, president of Performance Toyota, said that Toyota approached all of their dealers about a new initiative “to try to be as green as possible.” Toyota didn’t provide Blickle’s dealership any money to purchase solar panels, but instead were given extra vehicles as an incentive to pursue the initiative. Installation company Freedom Solar facilitated the grant for the dealership.

Blickle said the solar panels were installed about four or five weeks ago and they’ll flip the switch in the next week. 

According to the USDA, the panels are expected to save the business approximately $28,600 annually and replace 128,159 kilowatt hours (kWh), enough energy to power 26 homes.

“REAP rural small business owners and farmers invest in energy audits and renewable energy development grants and loans that helps reduce traditional energy consumption and save money while positively impacting the environment,” said Bob Morgan, state director for USDA Rural Development. 

USDA’s second visit Thursday was at Wen-Crest Farms LLC in Lebanon County. The farm will use a $229,200 grant to purchase and install a 243-kilowatt (kW) solar panel for its chicken farming operation in Lebanon. 

Although Wen-Crest Farms LLC has been operating for 17 years, Steve Wenger said his grandfather purchased the farm nearly 80 years ago. Wenger owns and operates the farm alongside his wife, Bonnie, and youngest son, Nick and his wife, Brooke. 

The USDA visited at Wen-Crest Farms LLC in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The farm will use a $229,200 federal grant for a solar panel project at its chicken farming operation. (John Cole/)

Bonnie Wenger said she first pursued a state grant for a solar panel for the farm about 15 years ago, but they weren’t selected. She revisited the idea more recently when this USDA grant became available and electricity costs were increasing. 

“It’s nice to become more self-sufficient,” Bonnie Wenger said in an interview with the Capital-Star. “Every day you see what’s going on in the world around us. And to me, that gives me a sense of security.” 

She said being able to become independent with solar “would be my goal.” 

Marty Clemmer, solar consultant for Paradise Energy Solutions, said a project of this size will take about two to three months for permitting. He said that the panels should be installed around next summer. 

Clemmer credited the Inflation Reduction Act for making solar projects “a lot more appealing for customers, especially farmers.” 

“The inflation Reduction Act has certainly provided a lot more solar incentives for customers, a couple of which are yet to be defined, but it has allowed customers to look a little bit more favorably at the payback of a solar project,” Clemmer said in an interview with the Capital-Star. 

Paradise Energy Solutions is based in Pennsylvania, but does installations in eight states.  

“Our company works with a lot of farmers and there is a lot of growth potential there,” Clemmer added. “A lot of farmers have great roof surfaces to put solar projects on. So there is a lot of growth potential and, and programs like this are definitely helping that.”

While the Wengers celebrated placing the solar panel project on the roof of their chicken farm, Steve Wenger acknowledged his concerns about solar panels being used on farm land. 

“I think it’s important, we got all these roofs for the warehouse, poultry houses, or cattle barns or whatever,” Steve Wenger said. “What I don’t want to see is acres and acres of prime farmland taken out for solar projects put on there.”

Some elected officials and those in the agriculture community have expressed similar concerns about placing solar panels on farm land, which has even resulted in a bill proposed in the state Senate aimed at preventing it. 

According to the USDA, the project is expected to save the farm approximately $29,500 per year and will replace 246,616 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year, which is enough energy to power 22 homes.

The USDA will continue to hold funding competitions quarterly through Sept. 30, 2024. 

Attending both events were officials from U.S. Sen. John Fetterman’s office. Fetterman is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.  In Sinking Spring, attending were representatives from state Sen. Judy Schwank, minority chair of the PA Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, and state Rep. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz (D-Berks).

Cepeda-Freyitz’s office said in an emailed statement that she “entirely supports these programs as they will help increase economic development in rural towns and communities and open new avenues of opportunities for a clean energy generation.” 

A representative from U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser (R-9th District) attended the Lebanon event.



Originally published at,by John Cole

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