Missouri Agricultural Energy Saving Team – A Revolutionary Opportunity (MAESTRO)
Missouri's MAESTRO Cultivates Better Buildings in America's Heartland
Livestock producers have experienced a doubling in feed prices since 2006, coupled with increasing utility costs. The Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA), along with other partners, is helping small farms upgrade inefficient farm equipment and farm houses in order to save energy and money.
With $5 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, MDA helped establish the Missouri Agricultural Energy Saving Team—A Revolutionary Opportunity (MAESTRO), which provides livestock operations with the means to invest in energy efficiency.
Program Design: Expertise and Attractive Offers Grow Demand for Upgrades
Driving Demand: Planting Seeds for Success
Financing: Finding the Sweet Spot for Loans and Incentives
Workforce Development: Keeping Agricultural Workers in Business
Expertise and Attractive Offers Grow Demand for Upgrades
In an effort to help farmers potentially save more than $3,000 each year, MAESTRO is focusing on common energy efficiency upgrades for farms such as lighting, ventilation, insulation, cooling, and other operation-specific equipment upgrades.
MDA partnered with the University of Missouri-Columbia to help coordinate MAESTRO activities. The University partnered with EnSave to help implement the technical aspects of the on-farm energy assessment process. EnSave is a national firm that has been designing and implementing agricultural energy efficiency programs for clients across the United States since 1991.
MAESTRO offers farmers several energy evaluation options. Technical assistance valued at $500 is available from EnSave for free to livestock farmers who want an energy analysis for only one area of their farm. Energy management plans are also available from EnSave. Better Buildings funding allows the MAESTRO team to offer a $1,500 energy assessment for just $125. EnSave energy experts also prepare energy management plans that review the farm operation as a whole based upon data collected. Farmers who implement the recommendations of technical assistance or energy management plans and reduce their energy use by 15% are eligible for a cost share grant, which covers 75% of the upgrade cost up to $12,000 per farm.
Home energy evaluations are also available for a discounted price ($125 instead of $500). If the recommended and installed efficiency upgrades result in at least a 15% energy reduction, the cost of the evaluation is fully rebated, resulting in a no-cost energy assessment. A cost share grant of up to $8,000 is also available for farms' home upgrade activities.
Planting Seeds for Success
To generate farmers' interest and gain their trust in the program, MAESTRO representatives have made presentations at agricultural events across the state. Between radio and television presentations and advertisements in statewide publications, virtually every farmer in Missouri has been exposed to MAESTRO. More than 20,000 brochures, letters, and post cards have been distributed to farmers across the state. Taking advantage of an already established and trusted network in the farm community, MAESTRO is also working with equipment manufacturers and dealers, extension services, and other industry stakeholders to spread the word about energy efficiency upgrades. Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc., and Dairy Farmers of America also offered their assistance and services to ensure their members were aware of the benefits the MAESTRO program has to offer.
Knowing how farmers like to tell their neighbors when they find out about a good deal, MAESTRO is also relying on farmer-to-farmer interaction to increase program involvement. "Once a farmer participates in the program, he tells everyone," said Jane McIntosh, MAESTRO project director.
Finding the Sweet Spot for Loans and Incentives
When MAESTRO was first established, it focused on creating low-interest loans for farmers. After a few months and only one interested party, the program talked with stakeholders and found that another loan was the last thing farmers wanted. "The extended agricultural community was telling farmers not to take on more debt in order to sustain themselves," according to Tony Stafford, Executive Director of the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority. "Once we changed the program to include incentives of up to $12,000 and lowered the prices of the Energy Management Plans and Home Audits, we dramatically increased program interest."
Although MAESTRO refocused on rebates to better meet farmers' needs, for those farmers who do want to finance energy efficiency upgrades, the program offers a 3% interest rate buy-down for loans that do not exceed $50,000. It also established a loan loss reserve fund to give financial institutions the confidence to set lower interest rates for farmers who are willing to take on loans for more extensive upgrades.
Keeping Agricultural Workers in Business
As the market for energy efficiency services for farm operations grows, MAESTRO is helping to ensure business for the equipment manufacturers and dealers that supply energy-efficient systems and provide installation services.
MAESTRO has created additional jobs and fostered professional development in the home energy evaluation sector. At least four additional energy experts have achieved Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification and 20 have obtained EnSave assessment and data collection certification. New LED lighting companies are now promoting their products in Missouri, and electricians are finding work installing new energy efficiency measures.
U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program