The US government has announced a $2.7bn investment to help 64 electric co-ops and utilities expand and modernise the rural electric grid and improve security.
Announcing the move, agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said: “These critical investments will benefit rural people and businesses in many ways for decades to come.
“This funding will help rural co-operatives and utilities invest in changes that make our energy more efficient, more reliable, and more affordable. Investing in infrastructure – roads, bridges, broadband and energy – supports good-paying jobs and keeps the United States poised to lead the global economy.”
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing in 64 projects through its Electric Loan Program, and says it will will benefit nearly 2 million rural people and businesses in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
The loans include $613m to help rural utilities and co-ops install and upgrade smart grid technologies. Smart grid can be a catalyst for broadband and other telecommunications services in unserved and underserved rural areas in addition to improving grid security and reliability.
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Nearly half of the awards will help finance infrastructure improvements in underserved communities, the USDA adds.
Co-ops benefiting from the scheme include:
- The Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative is receiving a $111m loan to connect 1,264 consumers and build and improve 404 miles of line. The loan includes $13.4m for smart grid technologies. Northern Virginia Electric, headquartered in Manassas, serves 176,604 consumers over 7,614 miles of line in six counties.
- The Carteret-Craven Electric Membership Cooperative in Newport, North Carolina, is receiving a $28m loan to connect 3,115 consumers and build and improve 132 miles of line. The loan includes $169,437 for smart grid technologies. Carteret-Craven Electric serves 41,655 consumers through 2,493 miles of line in four counties in southeastern North Carolina.
- Minnesota’s Beltrami Electric Cooperative is receiving a $22.7m loan to connect 1,480 consumers and build and improve 225 miles of line. The loan includes $1.3m for smart grid technologies. Beltrami Electric is headquartered in Bemidji, Minnesota. It serves 21,772 consumers in portions of Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Hubbard, Itasca and Koochiching counties with 3,500 miles of distribution line covering approximately 3,000 square miles.
In the coming months, USDA will announce additional energy infrastructure financing, and says the Electric Loan Program can help finance wind, solar and natural gas plants, as well as improvements to produce cleaner energy from coal-fired plants. Local utilities also use the loans to invest in infrastructure to deliver affordable power to millions of residential, commercial and agricultural consumers.
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