New Program for Farms and Small Businesses

Joel Zook, Energy Planner

New Funding Available for Farms and Small Businesses

Luther College’s Center for Sustainable Communities has received USDA funding to provide energy audits through the Winneshiek Energy District (WED) to small businesses and agricultural producers in NE Iowa and SE Minnesota. 

The grant funding provided by USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) significantly reduces the cost of a high-quality energy audit.  

“This is a great opportunity for our area businesses and farmers to receive a quality energy assessment at a much-reduced rate,” said Jim Martin-Schramm, Director of Luther’s Center for Sustainable Communities.  

The grant support is especially valuable because Black Hills Energy and Alliant Energy recently discontinued their small business energy assessment programs.  In addition, most municipal utilities don’t have incentives available. 

The energy audits for farms and businesses identify cost-effective energy efficiency and other clean energy opportunities like solar power.  They include detailed implementation plans developed in consultation with the participants based on their goals and priorities. The plans also identify additional financial assistance opportunities such as utility rebates.  In addition, the audits can be used to qualify farmers for EQIP cost-share or to apply for REAP grants (farm and business). 

Virtually every farm and business has real opportunities to pursue clean energy prosperity in their operation and community. The project partners will work with participants and others to share success stories and to arrange brief open houses and clean energy tours.  

If you are a small business or ag producer that wants to get a handle on your energy expenses, lead by example, and help your peers and community, contact WED’s Lead Energy Planner at 563-380-7137, or email


The program is open to rural small businesses and agricultural producers in the following counties: 

  • Filmore and Houston Counties in Minnesota
  • Howard, Winneshiek, Allamakee, Fayette, Clayton, Delaware, Jones, and Jackson Counties in Iowa
  • Dubuque County, Iowa, excluding the Dubuque metro area

The capacity of the program is limited by funding. Applications will be evaluated as they are received, with input from WED and other local partners.  Participants interested in completing clean energy projects and willing to participate in clean energy outreach activities are especially encouraged to apply.

 FAQs/Key Points

  • All of the counties listed above, except the metro portion of Dubuque, meet the definition of “rural”.
  • “Small businesses” can actually be quite large and still qualify. They are generally defined as under 500 employees – some industries are allowed a larger cap, and final eligibility will be determined during the application process.
  • Unfortunately, public bodies, non-profits, and residences are not eligible.

Estimated Costs to Participants

The program serves a wide range of business types and sizes. Participant cost-share will vary based on the type and size of business or farm. The program is designed to meet high standards.  As a result, each energy audit will be as comprehensive as possible.  

Out of pocket costs to small businesses will generally range from $200 – $300; for larger commercial customers (over 25,000 square feet in size OR $25,000 in total annual energy cost) the costs will likely range from $500 – $900.

The out of pocket cost to a small agricultural producer will be around $500 – $600, with a higher cost for larger farms or dairies that take a good deal more work to assess. At the upper end, a large dairy (over 500 cows) would be approximately $900.

Process During COVID-19

The program is currently in the outreach and signup phase.  Site visits will be arranged when conditions permit.  Ideal candidates are farms and small businesses with a clear intention to implement projects and a willingness to collaborate with the project partners on outreach about their successful implementation and results. The audit process can begin remotely with the collection of farm/business information and utility data. 

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