By - Jim Vess

Rural communities to get $865 million in infrastructure aid from USDA programs

Energize Weekly, August 26, 2020

The Trump administration, in the last three weeks, has announced $865 million in loans and grants to upgrade rural infrastructure – electric grids, water systems and broadband internet.

The two largest programs are for water and wastewater systems – $462 million – and rural electrification – $371 million.

The largest loans are in the rural electrification program where 10 projects covering 11 states share in the funding pool, which will build or upgrade 3,741 miles of lines. The water system grants are spread among 161 projects in 45 states.

Oklahoma received $29 million to connect 2,119 rural households to broadband service. Missouri also received a $3 million grant to connect 4,839 people, 54 farms, 27 businesses, two public schools and one fire station.

“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now – as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement announcing the grants. “Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband.”

The largest single award, a $61.5 million electric loan, went to the Jackson Purchase Energy Cooperative, in Paducah, Ky. The co-op serves about 30,000 members in southwestern Kentucky. The money will be used to connect 1,718 consumers, upgrade 135 miles of lines and add smart-grid technologies.

Piedmont EMC, in Hillsborough, N.C., received a $60 million loan to connect 2,171 consumers in north central North Carolina, as well as build and improve 199 miles of line and invest in smart-grid technology.

The smallest loan – $1.5 million – went to the Naknek Electric Association, in Naknek, Alaska, where the money will be used to supplement operating expenses and the loss of revenue as a result of the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Co-ops serving areas in Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota and Wisconsin also received loans.

“These investments will improve electric service by connecting more consumers, building and improving lines, and modernizing power grids in rural communities,” Bette Brand, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development deputy undersecretary, said in a statement.

The awards to municipal water systems are a mix of loans and grants. For example, the Sanbornville Precinct in Sanbornville, N.H., will use a $2.9 million loan and a $695,885 grant to replace outdated water system infrastructure dating from the 1930s. 

The town of Lawndale, N.C., will use an $872,000 loan and a $1.5 million grant to provide sanitary sewer service to an area of the town that is currently without sewer service, and the city of Wolf Point, Mont., received a $109,000 loan and $56,000 grant to replace water mains dating back to 1900.

The largest package – a $6.2 million loan and a $4.5 million grant – went to the Charlotte Harbor Water Association, in Punta Gorda, Fla., to upgrade its water treatment facility.

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