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USDA announces $349m funding for rural electric infrastructure and smart grids

Steve Rogerson
July 28, 2015
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced $349m in funding for rural electric infrastructure projects including $17m in smart grid technology. The announcement was made by agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack for 15 rural electric infrastructure projects to build or improve 3000km 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 programme, 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, Macon Electric in Missouri has been selected to receive a $15.2m loan to build or improve 82km of line and make other system improvements. The loan includes $2m for smart grid projects.
Douglas Electric in South Dakota is receiving $1.3m to build and improve 24km of line and make other system improvements. The loan includes $270,000 for smart grid projects.
Minnesota Valley Electric will receive a $25.5m loan to build or improve 275km of line and make other system improvements. The loan includes $2m for smart grid projects and $222,000 for services to native Americans.
The total of $349m in electric loans includes a $44m loan to Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative announced by Vilsack earlier in the month.
Smart grids increase the reliability of electric power by helping utilities better manage the electric grid to improve operational efficiencies. They include metering, substation automation, computer applications, two-way communications and geospatial information systems.
The 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, the USDA's rural utilities service awarded $2.7bn in electric loans. These loans helped 4.6 million rural residents receive improved electric services.