The Office for the Advancement of Sustainable Energy at JMU, formerly known as the Center for Wind Energy, works around the state of Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region to bring awareness to wind energy, solar energy and energy storage and efficiency.
A grant given from the U.S. Department of Agriculture permits the office to find some of the individuals initially interested in the Rural Energy for America Program. The office is identifying individuals in Floyd County, Virginia, who’d be eligible for the funding and have the necessary land to support a renewable energy system.
REAP allows any agricultural producer, small business owner or electric operative to apply for a grant that will cover 25 percent of the total project cost for a renewable energy system. It can be used for wind or solar energy.
“It supports projects that would allow these entities to install a new energy system, such as wind or solar, on their own property where the energy produced is for their own use,” Jonathan Miles, director of the Office for the Advancement of Sustainable Energy at JMU, said.
Dustyn Vallies, outreach and development manager for the Office for the Advancement of Sustainable Energy at JMU, is working with farmers and small business owners to give them access to REAP.
“The best outcome is that community members that are interested and eligible for these opportunities are connected to them and carry them out to fruition or for the projects to materialize,” Vallies said.
For any small business owner seeking an opportunity to pursue renewable energy, this is an attractive model and option to look into, according to Vallies. The deadline for the grant is April 1st.
“We want to just spread the information to the people that need it and facilitate and help those projects where we can,” Vallies said.
The Association of Energy Conservation Professionals has partnered with JMU on this project. AECP promotes and advocates for renewable energy and sustainability.
According to Billy Weitzenfeld, executive director of the AECP, Floyd was identified because it’s a potentially good wind resource. The AECP has been working with JMU since the early 2000’s. Community meeting with individuals who might be interested in the program have been held since November.
According to Weitzenfeld, Floyd is becoming a hotbed of renewable energy, as large wind farms are becoming more effective. The cost for solar and wind energy has dropped and become a more attractive option. Weitzenfeld also believes much of the misinformation regarding wind energy has been disproven.
“I also think there’s an urgency that people are finally feeling,” Weitzenfeld said. “Renewable energy is very, very critically important and people want to participate in that. They want to be part of that.”
One of the individuals interested in the program is Jack Packard, owner of Floyd EcoVillage, a 75-acre property that currently houses six families and has a residential capacity event center that can hold 35 people.
“Our goal is to be 100 percent renewable energy, and wind energy is going to bring us pretty close,” Packard said.
The EcoVillage currently uses solar energy, but there are additional benefits of wind energy that can bring them closer to their goal. It costs $125,000 for the installation of a wind turbine. By qualifying for REAP, Packard could reduce that cost by 25 percent. He additionally receives a 3 percent discount for the renewable energy tax credit.
“It’s a bigger investment in the one unit, but it’s going to provide power to a lot of our larger buildings for the business we operate,” Packard said. “You’re getting free energy eventually, but you have to pay a lot up front.”
According to Weitzenfeld, it’s mutually beneficial for business owners and the environment that there’s clean energy that’s eventually going to become free.
“The more people see these systems at work, the more the industry grows and the better educated people are,” Weitzenfeld said. “To replace fossil fuels with renewable energy — the more we do it, the more it’s going to happen on a broader scale.”
CORRECTION (March 13, 1:00 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated REAP allows any agricultural producer, small business owner or electric operative to apply for a $30,000 grant. The grant actually covers 25 percent of the total project cost, which isn't necessarily $30,000.
Contact Matthew Sasser at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.