RENEW Wisconsin: Farms won energy grants with planning and cooperation


Michael Vickerman

Executive Director

RENEW Wisconsin


[email protected]

Well-laid plans and coordinated efforts led to Wisconsin’s success in topping the nation in capturing USDA grants for rural renewable energy projects, according to a state-based clean energy group.

“The farmers and their contractors got started well in advance, and several agencies worked together to help develop the projects and write the grants,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization that seeks greater use of locally available energy resources, like solar, wind, and livestock manure.

“Rural businesses in Wisconsin understand that renewable energy development results in value-added products that are in increasing demand by utilities and various end-users,” added Vickerman.

Twenty-seven Wisconsin farms and rural businesses – more than in any other state — will receive more than $6 million in federal grants for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvement the USDA announced in mid-September.

“We’re talking about multi-million dollar projects in some cases, so it took a concerted effort by the applicants and various agencies to snag so many grants worth so much money,” commented Don Wichert, director of the Focus on Energy Renewable Energy program (Focus).

Representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), the Department of Administration, Focus, the Wisconsin Technical College System, UW-Extension, the Center for Technology Transfer, and the Wisconsin Biogas Development Group publicized the grants and helped local businesses prepare their applications.

“Farmers and rural businesses should begin planning now to submit proposals for next year,” explained Shelly Laffin, a consultant on renewable energy for Focus.

Start with a phone call to Focus, she suggests. “These grants require submission of a feasibility study for the larger projects. The study lays out most of the project’s finances and technical details, so a feasibility study is extensive in and of itself,” Laffin continued. Focus can help by co-funding feasibility studies for eligible projects.

“And then there’s the grant application,” she added. “It’s complicated, and the requested documentation varies by project size and type. All the agencies have staff to help the applicant figure out what to submit and how to get it organized and presented coherently.”

In cooperation with Focus and other Wisconsin organizations, the USDA and DATCP also hold grant writing workshops and help applicants with technical assistance on possible projects.

Nineteen of the Wisconsin grants will support development of anaerobic digester systems, which capture methane from livestock manure. The methane fuels an engine that turns an electricity-producing generator.

The other grants will fund projects in bioenergy, energy efficiency, solar electrical production, and wind generation of electricity.

One hundred sixty-seven recipients from 26 states will receive $22.8 million in competitive grants. This includes $20,999,075 for renewable energy projects and $1,812,974 for energy efficiency projects.

Focus on Energy, an energy efficiency and renewable energy program, supported by a small surcharge on utility customers’ bills, can be contacted by phone (800.762.7077), e-mail ([email protected]), or on the Web at