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Bath Business Benefits From Energy Grant

October 08, 2009
BATH—Dale Riley and his son Allen are not terribly worried about the cost of heating their business this winter, thanks to an energy efficiency grant they were awarded in 2008.

Last Thursday the pair, owners of EZ Steel and Fabrication on Rum Hill Road, was visited by representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, a representative from Senator Jean Shaheen's office, and others for a 2008 REAP (Rural Energy for America Program) Recipient open house at the business.

"I was hoping more of our recipients could have made it," USDA Public Relations Specialist Anita Moore said. "It would have been great to hear more of the success stories."

In 2008 EZ Steel received a $4,400 grant from REAP last year and used it toward building and installing a $24,000 geothermal heating system.

Geothermal power and heating is cost effective, reliable, and environmentally friendly, but has seen very slow development until recently. Recent technological advances have dramatically expanded the range and size of viable geothermal resources, especially for applications such as home heating, opening a potential for widespread exploitation. Geothermal wells release greenhouse gases trapped deep within the earth, but these emissions are much lower per energy unit than those of conventional fossil fuels. As a result, energy experts believe that geothermal power has the potential to help mitigate global warming if widely deployed in place of fossil fuels. "When you step back and assess the program," Rural Development Business Program Director David Robinson said, "you can see what we're doing for helping the business' bottom line, as well as helping the environment."

And helping the bottom line they are. In January 2008, EZ Steel paid $1,004 for propane gas to heat their facility. With the geothermal heating plant in place and operational, the cost to heat the facility in January 2009 was just $425, that for the electricity to power the system, representing a 57 percent savings on the business' overhead.

"It's a relatively short-term payback," Robinson said.

According to Robinson, Rural Development has approved and is assisting with nine projects in New Hampshire, and 35 in Vermont this year. In 2008, they approved and provided funding and loan guarantees for eight projects in New Hampshire and 27 in Vermont in 2008.

Of the eight projects in New Hampshire last year, Robinson estimates that they will save about 13,000 gallons of heating oil.

"That translates to about $109,000 in energy cost savings that goes back into the bottom line for these businesses," Robinson said.

Of the 27 Vermont projects, Robinson estimates they will amount to a savings of about 3.2 million gallons of heating oil.

The elder Riley gave his visitors a brief tour of the 4,500 square-foot facility and explained the workings of the geothermal system. A series of five trenches, each seven feet deep were dug in the field adjacent to the building, and approximately 1,000 feet of heavy tubing was buried in the bottom of each trench. The tubing, filled with a water-glycol mixture feeds into a unit in the building, which absorbs heat from the liquid and then circulates it back out to the trenches, where it gathers more heat from the earth. The unit itself is rather non-descript, looking like a very small furnace.

"It's a simple system," Riley said. "Water comes in at around 41 degrees, and the system removes 10 degrees of heat from the water before sending it back out."

Other New Hampshire projects receiving grant money from the program include Bisson's Sugar House in Berlin for an energy efficient reverse osmosis system, Quality Castings & Aluminum Products, of Franklin, for an energy efficiency upgrade for a compressor, and an energy efficiency grant to Roberts Laundromat and Carwash for a water heating system.

REAP, formerly known as the 9006 program, was enacted by the 2008 Farm Bill.

REAP offers grants and/or loan guarantees for the purchase and installation of renewable energy generating systems and for energy efficiency improvements. Assistance is limited to small businesses and farmers & ranchers. Projects are required to be located in a rural area.

REAP grants and guarantees may be used individually or in combination, and together they may finance up to 75 percent of a project's cost. Grants can finance up to 25% of project cost, not to exceed $500,000 for renewable energy projects, and $250,000 for energy efficiency projects. There are also REAP grants to help pay for technical assistance on energy projects.

In addition, REAP has several special grant funds that can share part of the cost of energy audits, feasibility studies, and other technical assistance that help farmers, ranchers, and rural small businesses successfully undertake rural energy projects.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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