Last week Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced $44 million in grants to develop renewable energy and expand the economic prospects and environmental promise of biomass.

Of that $23 million has been earmarked for USDA’s Rural Development division to use to assist farmers, ranchers and small rural businesses develop renewable energy systems and make energy improvements to their operations. The other $21 million is for the Biomass Research and Development Initiative.

“These programs support the President’s goal to enhance renewable energy supplies,” said Veneman. “Developing alternative energy sources that reduce pollution and increase energy security is an important part of the Administration’s overall energy policy.”

Both programs were authorized by the 2002 Farm Bill and will be conducted in collaboration with the Department of Energy.

Through the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements program producers can apply for up to 25 percent of eligible project costs. Eligible projects include those that derive energy from a wind, solar, biomass, or geothermal source, or hydrogen derived from biomass or water using wind, solar, or geothermal energy sources. Awards will be made on a competitive basis for the purchase of renewable energy systems and to make energy improvements.

Applicants for the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements program must meet these criteria:

1. Agricultural producers or rural small businesses.

2. U.S. citizens or legal residents.

3. Have demonstrated financial need.

Applications must be postmarked by June 6. For more details on the program go to: