ELK RAPIDS — A pair of Antrim County businesses received federal grant dollars for solar projects.
More than $9 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grant dollars were recently distributed nationwide for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, including about $30,000 that went to Antrim County, the only northern Michigan area to receive such funding. Both businesses that received grants used the money for solar array systems.
White Birch Lodge in Elk Rapids received a $11,825 grant, while Providence Farm in Central Lake got an $18,375 grant.
“We were very happy to get it,” said Michael Conrad, general manager at the longtime family-owned White Birch Lodge.
Conrad said the federal grant funds covered a portion of the cost to install solar panels and the accompanying electronic infrastructure required.
“We’ve always been interested in trying to do business as eco-friendly as we can,” he said. “It’s something we’ve considered doing for years.”
The grant dollars and renewable energy tax credits made the project feasible, Conrad said, and this kind of project is more attainable than many may believe. In fact, the entire cost of the solar panels should be recovered in utility savings within about 10 years.
“It depends on how much sun we get,” Conrad said.
Officials at Providence Farms could not be reached for comment.
Grant dollars and loan guarantees through the Rural Energy for America Program are allocated by Congress at $50 million for 2019. Recipients can use the funding for energy audits, renewable energy systems installation — biomass, geothermal, hydropower or solar — as well as for energy efficiency efforts, insulation, and lighting and refrigeration.
Jason Allen, USDA Rural Development state director for Michigan, said such investments help strengthen rural economies.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow last week released a report about the impacts of climate change on Michigan during a roundtable discussion with farmers and conservationists in Leelanau County. She argued the state’s agriculture industry is uniquely positioned to help address climate change, one example being through the use of renewable energy systems such as solar panels and small-scale wind turbines.
Stabenow is the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.