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USDA invests $2.5bn in rural grid upgrades

Steve Rogerson
November 8, 2017
The US Department of Agriculture is investing $2.5bn in rural electric infrastructure improvements to help create jobs and support economic development in 27 states.
“These significant investments will help develop and maintain modern, reliable electric infrastructure that businesses and rural communities need in a 21st century economy,” said secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue. “The loans I am announcing today will help utilities and cooperatives build new transmission and distribution lines, upgrade networks and facilities, and better manage the power grid.”
The funding will support infrastructure improvements in Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The loans are being provided through USDA Rural Development’s electric programme, which is the successor to the Rural Electrification Administration.
“We are extremely pleased that USDA is making such a major investment in rural development and infrastructure through new loans to America’s electric cooperatives,” said Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “USDA is an important partner helping us illuminate rural America and empower the communities we serve. That partnership is critical to co-ops’ ability to maintain, expand and improve rural electric infrastructure.”
One of the USDA awards is an $18.3m loan to the Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative in New Mexico to build 93km, improve 45km of line and make other system improvements. Jemez will use $7m for smart grid improvements.
In Oregon, the Harney Electric Cooperative is receiving an $11.7m loan to build 85km of line and make other system improvements. The Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative in Portola, California, will receive a $14.2m loan to improve 70km of transmission and distribution line, build 1.6km and make other system improvements.
The Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative in Dade City, Florida, is receiving a $130m loan to build 478km, improve 106km of line and make other system improvements. The loan includes $1.4m for smart grid projects.
Smart grid includes technological enhancements such as metering, substation automation, computer applications, two-way communications and geospatial information systems to help utilities increase the reliability and efficiency of electric power systems. These loans include $127m for smart grid projects.
Three North Carolina companies – Gamble Solar, Wadesboro Solar and Salisbury Solar – are receiving a total of $14.1m to build solar photovoltaic energy farms in various parts of the state.
The announcement comes as another electric project that USDA helped support nears completion. Later this month, O2 EMC, a North Carolina firm, will complete a solar project that has provided a local investment of more than $6m in rural, south-west Virginia. The project has been a significant boost to the area’s economy, particularly for the local steel fabrication company.
More than 80 per cent of people who work at the 16-acre solar project live within a 50km radius. Many workers have acquired new skills that will allow them to create careers in the rapidly expanding solar energy industry. The project created work for more than 100 area residents during its construction phase. By early next year, it will create enough electricity to power more than 500 homes.
USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements, business development, homeownership, community services such as schools, public safety and health care, and high-speed internet access in rural areas.