doughThe Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) offered a seminar on best practices last month to local businesses at the U.S. Virgin Islands Small Business Development Center.

The informative seminar, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office, aimed to educate small business owners about resources and options it has available for sustaining and growing their businesses.

Operating a small business on the U.S. Virgin Islands can be particularly difficult because of both energy expenses and the costs of living tend to be much higher on small islands. REAP provides a forward-thinking solution to this problem faced by small businesses everywhere, but to a much greater extent here in the Territory.

As the USDA representatives from Florida explained, REAP offers guaranteed loans and grants to small businesses and agricultural producers who plan to install renewable energy systems, providing both an incentive and a break on energy costs. This double relief is especially helpful in today’s sluggish economy.

The seminar leaders explained in detail the processes and goals of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency projects, two of the USDA’s main areas of focus. While energy efficiency aims to decrease a system’s overall consumption of energy, thus conserving a valuable resource, renewable energy systems aim to actually produce energy themselves using the power of natural resources like solar heat, wind movement, geothermal currents, ocean wave currents, and even grasses or other organic, decomposable biomass materials. These are all available for use by U.S. Virgin Islands businesses.

If small businesses and agricultural producers pledge to install and use their own energy efficiency projects or renewable energy systems, they are eligible for a number of grants or guaranteed loans to maintain their businesses during the transition process. Organizations can do this by submitting a proposal that is viable and includes the use of technology that is already or soon to be available.

The attendees, a diverse crowd that included farmers, storeowners and restaurant managers, had much to discuss after the seminar. Although they were not unanimously excited about the idea of taking out loans, most were intrigued and inspired by the potential for energy efficient and renewable energy systems to revitalize their operations, their livelihoods and the local economy — and thrilled at the prospect of receiving a government grant to help move this process along.

The USDA’s REAP program is part of a larger energy development initiative focused on developing large bio-refineries for commercial use, replacing fossil fuels with renewable biomass and producing advanced biofuels not made from corn kernel starch, all technologies that may prove useful to the U.S. Virgin Islands in the years to come.

BoltNagi is a widely respected and well-established government relations law firm serving businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.