Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington, D.C., is investing $68 million in 540 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide.

"These loan guarantees and grants will have far-reaching impacts nationwide, particularly in the rural communities where these projects are located," says Vilsack. "Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency will continue the unprecedented increase in home-grown energy sources and American energy independence we've seen in recent years. This is creating jobs, providing new economic opportunities and leading the way to a more secure energy future."

USDA's investments in rural renewable energy projects are as part of the Obama Administration's “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, the most recent of a series of USDA actions to strengthen the country's energy sector. In fact, a $105 million loan guarantee to a company will produce jet fuel from municipal solid waste.

The $68 million funding is being provided through USDA Rural Development's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which was created by the 2008 Farm Bill and re-authorized by the recently passed 2014 Farm Bill.

The announcement comes when President Obama announced new executive actions to further advance the development of solar technologies across the country. These new investments in solar will reduce America's energy consumption, cut carbon pollution by nearly 300 million metric tons—equivalent to taking more than 60 million cars off the road for a year—and save businesses nearly $45 billion in energy bills. The renewed effort to invest in solar energy also includes commitments from a broad coalition of 50 public and private sector partners, including leading industry, community development organizations and housing providers in 28 states.

"USDA is proud to play a key role in Obama Administration's efforts to promote the use of solar technologies," adds Vilsack. "Of the REAP projects funded today, 240 projects are for solar investments of $5.2 million in grants and $55.3 million in loans."

For example, Progress Solar, Bunn, N.C., received a $3.4 million REAP loan guarantee in 2012 for installation of a solar array. Progress Solar now produces enough solar energy to power 540 average-sized homes each year. The 4.5 megawatt array was developed by O2 Energies, Inc., Cornelius, N.C. The Progress Solar site is a dual-use solar power plant and a working farm where a 10th-generation farming family raises free-range sheep and lambs. The project serves as a test site for herd management best practices on a solar farm, and the goal is to model future collaborative efforts that marry solar energy production with agriculture production.

Eligible agricultural producers and rural small businesses may use REAP funds to make energy efficiency improvements or install renewable energy systems, including solar, wind, renewable biomass (anaerobic digesters), small hydroelectric, ocean energy, hydrogen and geothermal.