Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $349 million in funding for 15 rural electric infrastructure projects to build or improve more than 1,844 miles of transmission and distribution lines for rural electric cooperatives and utilities in 13 states.
"Eighty years ago, USDA took on the challenge of bringing power to rural America and it helped make this the greatest, most productive country on Earth," said Vilsack. "Today we are continuing that commitment by investing in the next generation of power transmission – smart grid technology – to make our electric system more reliable, efficient and effective. Upgrading the electric grid will not only improve reliability and better manage costs, but it will also bring jobs and increased economic opportunities, helping to build a sustainable and dynamic future for rural residents and businesses."
The funding is being provided through USDA Rural Development's Electric Program, which makes insured loans and loan guarantees to non-profit and cooperative associations, public bodies and other utilities. The loans primarily finance the construction of electric distribution facilities in rural areas.
For example, the Macon Electric Cooperative in Missouri has been selected to receive a $15.2 million loan to build or improve 51 miles of line and make other system improvements. The loan includes $2 million for smart grid projects.
The Douglas Electric Cooperative, Inc. in South Dakota is receiving $1.3 million to build and improve 15 miles of line and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $270,000 for smart grid projects.
The Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative will receive a $25.5 million loan to build or improve 171 miles of line and make other system improvements. The loan includes $2 million for smart grid projects and $222,000 for service to Native Americans.
The total of $349 million in electric loans includes a $44 million loan to Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative announced by Vilsack on July 17.
Smart grid increases the reliability of electric power by helping utilities better manage the electric grid to improve operational efficiencies. It includes metering, substation automation, computer applications, two-way communications, geospatial information systems, and other system improvements.
USDA has been committed to improving production and transmission of electricity for rural America since the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935. In 2014 alone, USDA's Rural Utilities Service awarded $2.7 billion in electric loans. These loans helped 4.6 million rural residents receive improved electric service.
President Obama's plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President's leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way - strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.