SHEPHERDSTOWN — Buffet tables surrounding the room were filled with grilled lamb chops with purple jelly on the side, fresh salads and dessert plates with gourmet cookies and macarons.
The Bavarian Inn was an elegant host recently to a recognition ceremony awarding $128,128 in federal taxpayer dollars to six Jefferson County businesses for making energy efficiency improvements to their operations.
The Bavarian Inn, which hosted the event for U.S. Department of Agriculture officials inside a glass-walled brewpub, received a $24,962 grant to install new energy-efficient lighting, hot water heaters and kitchen equipment. In addition to defraying the cost of the lighting and equipment, the upgrades will provide the luxury inn about $1,800 a year in energy savings.
Rep. Alex Mooney, a fiscally-conservative Republican allergic to raising taxes who represents Jefferson County, was on hand to congratulate the recipients of the Rural Energy for America Program grants.
“I know it’s a lot of work to put in grant requests,” Mooney told the assembly. “We used to have [congressional appropriation] earmarks. We no longer have earmarks in this country, so we have to go through a long, extensive application process. Our office always stands ready to assist with grant request forms. We do that for many organizations.
“When it comes to bringing our fair share of federal tax dollars back to West Virginia,” added the congressman, who serves on the House Financial Services Committee, “your delegation of three congressmen and two senators, we put politics aside and we just fight for our constituents to make sure we take care of our growing businesses and the needs of our community.”
Kris Warner, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office for West Virginia, welcomed approximately two dozen guests at hand — mostly government officials — and passed out certificates to the grant recipients.
Asked why federal taxpayer money should be given to help businesses upgrade their energy systems, Warner said lawmakers on Capitol Hill deemed it worthy to do so.
“Congress has decided to incentivise, if you will, and help with the flow of capital to rural communities,” he explained. “And that’s exactly what we’re doing. Each one of these folks has to put their own investment in the way of matching funds.
“We help with the flow of capital. That is our mission, and we’re doing that.”
The USDA grants can fund up to 25 percent of a project’s total costs, according to the agricultural agency. Recipients of the so-called REAP grants must be agriculture producers or small businesses in rural areas.
In September of 2017, the Bavarian Inn received another REAP grant for $27,562 “to develop a renewable energy system,” according to a joint, bipartisan press announcement from West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican.
That year, the Bavarian Inn installed 105 solar panels and four electric car charging stations.
“These grants will ensure these businesses have the resources to adequately compete and thrive in the future so that rural communities can continue creating products we West Virginians know and love,” Manchin said in a statement touting grants given to the Bavarian and other businesses.
“Small businesses – like the ones receiving this funding – are truly the backbone of our economy, and I am glad to see additional resources headed their way so they can continue to grow, succeed and strengthen our communities throughout the state,” Capito added in her own statement.
This year, the USDA awarded 27 REAP program grants worth about $1 million to businesses in West Virginia.
Nationwide, the USDA awarded 1,713 REAP grants worth nearly $53 million.
Back at the Bavarian Inn ceremony, Warner, asked why the six businesses receiving the so-called REAP grants couldn’t be provided capital in the form of low- or no-interest loans that would reimburse the government to some degree over time, said: “There are portions of the program that are loans. It just happens to be the announcements that we made today are all grant announcements for the REAP program.”
The majority of the REAP grant recipients also apply for federal tax credits for their energy system upgrades, but those tax credits are provided by another federal program, according to another USDA official at the ceremony.
When asked how taxpayers benefitted by giving their money to businesses to upgrade their energy systems, Warner said: “To help grow those businesses and incentives and help the flow of capital to rural communities. We’re in very difficult times, and we’re helping the flow of capital.”
The USDA estimated that the six REAP grants would fund projects that will collectively generate $11,109 annually in energy savings.
Mooney, who left the ceremony before it ended, could not be approached for comment after the event. Afterward, the Spirit of Jefferson contacted his Capitol Hill office to ask him how distributing federal taxpayers’ money to pay for businesses’ energy systems is consistent with the Republican congressman’s fight for lower federal taxes. The Spirit also asked what federal grant programs to businesses the congressman would oppose.
Mooney responded, “Congress, through the appropriations process, funds grant programs that help address the needs of small communities in West Virginia. … The grants recently awarded by the USDA Rural Development to businesses in the Eastern Panhandle go directly towards the modernization and improvement of infrastructure for continued economic growth in our region.”