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Popularity of federal energy efficiency program amongst farmers puts it at risk

Solar panels have been cropping up on rural farms across America, as more farmers capitalize on a $300 million federal renewable energy program that assists with the cost of installation. But the program's growing popularity could be its downfall. 

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Workers erect some of the 90 solar panels at Timothy Ridgely's 2,700-acre southeastern Illinois farm in Parkersburg, Ill., on Sept. 6. Thousands of farms and other small businesses across America have begun embracing renewable energy to cut costs and boost their often uncertain bottom lines, often with the help of a federal program.

Courtesy of Austin Ridgely/AP

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Solar panels are cropping up alongside corn on Timothy Ridgely's Illinois farm. Irrigation equipment powered by the sun is pumping away on Daniel Chin's third-generation Oregon potato farm. And manure is being converted to electricity on an Ohio hog farm.

Across rural America, thousands of farms and small businesses are turning to renewable energy to cut costs and boost their often uncertain bottom lines, increasingly with the help of a decade-old federal program that aimed to hasten change in a part of the economy that had been slow to embrace it — yet where the electric bill can mean the difference between hiring a worker or laying one off.

Some were skeptical.

 
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