This June, Northampton Community College (NCC) received a $100,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to serve agricultural producers and rural small businesses throughout Pennsylvania by providing on-site renewable energy assessments through the Emerging Technology Applications Center (ETAC) at the college. The ETAC team at NCC will travel across Pennsylvania aiming to provide at least 26 businesses with economic and technical assessments unique to their operations, facilities, and equipment.  

The goal is to help businesses reduce their costs and carbon footprint. In some cases, especially with big farm landowners, there is an opportunity to generate so much energy they can sell it back to the power grid. Businesses will be provided with a report describing how renewable energy conversion can result in lower operating costs and improved sustainability.  

Alternative energy sources can come from geothermal, solar photovoltaics, thermal solar, wind turbines, biodigesters and more, with solar being the most popular option. As an example, a biodigester works by taking natural material, such as manure, breaking that down to give off methane gas, which in turn, can be used to generate electric energy.  

A business can choose to implement an alternative energy source, and the USDA could provide funding for up to half the installed cost to accelerate the deployment of the technology. There are guidelines, however, and the organization must have 50% of income coming from agriculture production or must be a rural small business to be eligible for the USDA assistance. 

Dr. John Barkanic, ETAC consultant at NCC, said, “We can help businesses by offering expertise and knowledge on how they can implement an alternative energy source should they so choose,” noting that some businesses may simply want to make energy efficiency upgrades, which the grant funding may cover, such as HVAC, insulation, lighting, and replacing inefficient electrical equipment. 

“This grant has been awarded to the college in the past and was awarded again because there is still more work to be done,” said Barkanic, and with three engineering degrees, a doctorate in chemistry, and a wealth of knowledge in the field, he’s poised and ready to help.  

“We will assist in energy reduction efforts wherever possible. We want the businesses to feel like there’s someone who can help them through this maze, which can be difficult to navigate. Most businesses don’t have current technical background on this subject, and we come in to help clarify and demystify the process.”  

For more information on ETAC and our grant programs, please visit northampton.edu/etac