Rural electric co-ops get $3.6b in loans

USDA to fund 82 electric projects in 31 states to increase reliability of rural electric services.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing $3.6 billion in loans to fund 82 electric projects in 31 states. These loans will finance infrastructure upgrades, create jobs and improve system operations for rural electric customers nationwide.

"For 80 years, rural electric utilities have provided reliable and affordable electricity to help rural communities increase productivity and build stronger economies," Vilsack said. "These loans will help them continue to do that. The utilities and cooperatives will use some of the money to finance energy efficiency projects, renewable fuel systems and smart grid technologies to increase our energy independence and improve rural electric infrastructure."

The $3.6 billion will build or improve 12,500 miles of transmission and distribution lines. It includes $216 million for smart grid technologies, $35 million for renewable energy, $26 million for environmental improvements and nearly $1.8 million for energy efficiency. The loans are being provided through the Electric Program of the Rural Utilities Service, the successor to the Rural Electrification Administration. Eighty years ago this spring, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the law that charged USDA with providing electric power to rural America. The Electric Program makes loans and loan guarantees to nonprofit and cooperative associations, public bodies and other utilities.

In addition to the announcement, USDA has invested $38 billion in electric loans and more than $1 billion for smart grid technologies since 2009, helping build more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution. Smart grid technology 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 improvements.

Improvements to rural electric utility systems help provide reliable and affordable electricity to rural customers, increasing efficiencies, reducing carbon emissions and improving the quality of life in rural areas. To read more about USDA's investments in renewable energy and the bio-based economy, visit USDA's entry on Medium.com, Powering America with a More Sustainable Energy Future.

In Missouri, the United Electric Cooperative is receiving a $28 million loan to build or improve 164 miles of line and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $3.5 million for smart grid projects. Missouri is receiving a total of $108 million for three projects that will build or improve more than 300 miles of line and invest more than $42 million in smart grid technologies to improve system resilience and efficiency.

Dairyland Power Cooperative, which is located in Wisconsin and serves customers in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota, will use an $87 million loan to make system improvements, including building and improving 12 miles of line. The cooperative will use nearly $3.8 million for smart grid technology to increase the efficiency of system operations.

Western Iowa Power Cooperative will use a $525,000 loan to build a solar photovoltaic system to supplement power needs and provide smart grid technology.

In Georgia, Oglethorpe Power Corp. will use a $448 million loan for generation improvements for 41 rural electric cooperative utilities across the state. In Alabama, Dixie Electric Cooperative will use $2.25 million of its $25.8 million loan for smart grid technologies and $684,000 for energy efficiency projects.

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