Earlier this month Congress finally passed, and President Obama signed, the long-awaited Agriculture Act of 2014.  The “Farm Bill” became law after an unusually contentious process that led to significant policy changes in several of the measure’s key sections such as crop insurance, dairy subsidies and food stamps.  The bill contains a robust Energy Title as well.

Because this is the most significant piece of renewable energy legislation enacted in over a year (and likely to be enacted this Congress), it’s worth noting some of the key programs and funding provisions that were included.

The bill calls for nearly $900 million in funding for important energy programs and extends those programs through the 2018 Fiscal Year. These include:

  • The Rural Energy for American Program (REAP)—$50 million/year for 5 years in mandatory funding (FY 2014-2018)
  • The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP)—$25 million/year for 5 years in mandatory funding (FY 2014-2018)
  • The Biorefinery Assistance Program—$200 million in mandatory funding from FY 2014-2016
  • The Repower Assistance Program—$12 million in mandatory funding for FY 2014
  • The Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels—$15 million/year in mandatory funding for 5 years (FY 2014-2018)
  • BioPreferred Program and Federal Government Procurement Program—$3 million/year for 5 years in mandatory funding (FY2014-2018)

Although the bill also authorizes discretionary spending for many of these programs beyond the mandatory funds summarized above, Congress has routinely failed to appropriate this discretionary spending.  Since we don’t expect this behavior to change given even tighter federal budgets in the future, the mandatory funding amounts are the critical numbers to focus on and plan for.

Several key policy changes were also made to existing renewable energy programs that open up these incentives to new types of projects and biobased products.  Specifically, the bill:

  • Adopts the definition of “renewable chemicals” as a product or substance produced from renewable biomass and establishes the term in federal law for the first time, making products covered by this definition eligible for federal incentives.
  • Modifies the definition of “biobased product” to explicitly include forestry materials and forest products that meet biobased content requirements, notwithstanding the market share the product holds, the age of the product, or whether the market for the product is new or emerging.
  • Defines “forest product” to ensure that mature forest products are treated equally as other biobased products, and clarifies that all forest products are eligible for inclusion in the BioPreferred Program and the Federal Government Procurement Program if they meet biobased content requirements and innovation standards.
  • Ends grant funding for the Biorefinery Assistance Program (which was never appropriated money by Congress anyway) and extends loan guarantee eligibility for the program to renewable chemical and biobased product manufacturing facilities.
  • Blocks the use of REAP funds for the deployment of blender pumps and other mechanisms to dispense renewable fuel.

While Congress may still debate energy efficiency legislation and tax writers could cobble together another tax “extenders” bill prolonging certain incentives for renewable energy, it’s important to realize that the Farm Bill may be the last significant piece of energy legislation signed by President Obama before the midterm electio