Energy audits guide producers toward savings

No matter where they live, farmers throughout the country are searching for ways to streamline their operations. As inputs continue to rise, producers search for ways to decrease costs. Energy audits are one avenue producers can utilize to determine how they can make their operations more energy efficient and save money over time.

Energy Audit First Steps

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers programs for producers interested in obtaining an energy audit and then implementing recommendations in the audit. Through the USDA-NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) farmers can apply for financial assistance to help pay for an energy audit. 

 If their application is approved by NRCS, then farmers contract with a certified Technical Service Provider (TSP) to conduct an energy audit of their operation. “The TSP will work with producers, assess their operation, look at their buildings, see where the energy usage is, the type of energy source used, and how much energy is being used,” Pat Adams, USDA-NRCS Area Resource Conservationist, said. “Then the TSP will make recommendations for more efficient practices.”

Each plan tackles potential energy savings for a particular operation. The goal of the audit is to identify ways producers can improve efficiency on their farms, save money, decrease energy consumption and reduce air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Audit Analysis and Findings

The energy audit, called an Agricultural Energy Management Plan (AgEMP), will address numerous aspects of an operation. The energy audit will contain a detailed list of energy use. It will also include recommendations for equipment improvements and upgrades. 

The energy audit will also give the producer estimations for potential energy savings and for how much the improvements will cost. In addition, the audit will provide the producer with information regarding how long it will take to recoup the costs of the upgrades or changes. “It is all customized and geared toward that producer and that producer’s barns and facilities,” Adams explained.

Some common recommendations in the energy audits include replacing incandescent lightbulbs with LED lightbulbs, adding insulation to facilities, replacing heating and cooling systems and upgrading ventilation and fans to energy efficient models. 

Application Process

The EQIP funding for energy audits and for implementing energy audit recommendations is a two-step process. The first step for producers to take is to apply for funding through EQIP in order to get financial support for the energy audit. After the TSP performs the audit, and submits it to the producer and NRCS representatives, then the farmer can apply for financial assistance to implement part or all of the plan.

Funding for the audit and/or for improvements through EQIP is awarded through a competitive process. NRCS conservationists rank applications based on specific guidelines. The deadline for applying for EQIP is typically October each year. 

EQIP is not designed to pay for 100 percent of the cost of the audit or energy reduction plan improvements. Most approved applicants receive funds to cover roughly 75 or 90 percent of the predetermined average cost. Local NRCS conservationists will help producers walk through each step of the process.


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