By: Robert Walton

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture yesterday announced it would invest $2.5 billion in rural electric infrastructure improvements spanning 27 states, helping cooperatives build new transmission and distribution lines, upgrade networks and facilities, and better manage the power grid.
  • The largest loan is about $100 million to Alaska’s Golden Valley Electric Association to build or improve on more than 80 miles of power lines, along with other improvements. The loan also includes $39 million for smart grid projects.
  • The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association praised the announcement, saying that as policymakers address the nation’s aging infrastructure it is vital to not forget about modernizing rural areas. The loans include $127 million for smart grid projects.

Dive Insight:

About 5% of the loans announced by USDA are aimed at smart grid projects, with the bulk going towards developing and repairing transmission lines.

USDA’s announcement said 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.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement that the loans will “help utilities and cooperatives build new transmission and distribution lines, upgrade networks and facilities, and better manage the power grid.”

The Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative in Florida was given a $130 million loan to build 297 miles, improve 66 miles of line, and to make other system improvements. The loan includes $1.4 million for smart grid projects. The Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative in New Mexico will use an $18.3 million loan to build 58 miles, improve 28 miles of line and make other system improvements, with $7 million earmarked for smart grid improvements.

Three solar companies in North Carolina will receive $14.1 million to build solar farms in various parts of the state.

Loans are provided through USDA’s Rural Development’s Electric Program. States with cooperatives receiving support include: 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.

USDA also noted that sometime in November, North Carolina firm O2 emc will complete a solar project that has provided a local investment of more than $6 million in rural, southwest Virginia. By early next year the project will create enough electricity to power more than 500 homes, the agency said.

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