MONROE, N.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced that USDA will loan more than $776 million to electric utilities in 16 states to provide service to more than 10,000 new customers and to make infrastructure improvements, including new generating facilities and lines.

"Our rural communities need reliable electric service in order to support business expansion and broaden economic opportunities," said Johanns. "These loans will open the door to growth in rural America by enabling cooperatives to improve distribution systems and serve additional customers."

One loan, for almost $38 million, is being made to the Coast Electric Power Association of Bay St. Louis, Miss. Funds will be used to restore distribution systems damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Southwest Electric Cooperative of Bolivar, Mo., will use over $9 million in loan funds to build 119 miles of new distribution line and make system improvements, serving 2,447 new customers. Plumas Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative of Portola, Calif., will receive an $11 million loan to construct a new generation facility which will serve residents of California and Nevada.

States receiving funding include Calif., Colo., Fla., Ga., Iowa, Ky., Minn., Miss., Mo., Mont., N.D., Neb., Nev., S.D., Wis., and Wyo. A complete list of the loan recipients is available online. Since 2001, USDA Rural Development has made 1,124 electric loans for a total of $23.9 billion.

USDA Rural Development's mission is to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life in rural communities.

SOURCE: USDA news release.