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The Senate Agriculture Committee passed a farm bill that includes funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). REAP provides grants, feasibility studies and guaranteed loans that help farmers and rural businesses invest in wind systems that lower operating costs.

However, on May 15, the House Agriculture Committee passed its own version of farm bill, without REAP funding.

The two versions will now go to their respective chambers. If passed, the bills will go to full conference where negotiations will begin. Congress is expected to work on a new five-year farm bill. Efforts to pass a similar farm bill in 2012 failed. The most recent farm bill, which passed in 2008, was extended until Sept. 30.

According to the Distributed Wind Energy Association (DWEA), which represents the distributed and community wind industry, REAP can help lower the cost of a wind turbine for farmers and others. Progress in these areas was jeopardized by inadequate funding in earlier versions of the farm bill.

"REAP is a great program," says Lloyd Ritter, DWEA's Capitol Hill representative. "Unfortunately, it has become caught up in the partisan politics of the day."

As an example of REAP benefits, DWEA cites the experience of Mattituck, N.Y.-based Shinn Estate Vineyards which used a REAP grant to help install a 10 kW wind system and a solar system at their organic winery.

"The REAP grant made the numbers work for us and allowed us to become the first winery on the East Coast entirely powered by the wind and sun," notes David Page, Shinn’s co-owner and vintner.

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