By - Jim Vess

USDA to finance $398 million in rural electric projects in 13 states

Energize Weekly, October 3, 2018

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing $398.5 million in funding to upgrade electric service in 13 states, including smart grid and renewable energy projects.

“Reliable and affordable electricity is undeniably a necessity in today’s world,” Anne Hazlett, rural development assistant to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, said in a statement. “USDA is committed to being a strong partner in keeping our rural communities connected to this essential infrastructure.”

The investments USDA is making include nearly $43.7 million for smart grid technologies. Many large, urban utilities have been adopting smart grid technologies such as new computer applications, two-way machine-to-machine communications, geospatial information systems and other tools aimed at increasing reliability and efficiency of the electric grid.

The 18 projects are scattered among rural cooperatives and utilities in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

USDA is making the investments through the Electric Infrastructure Loan & Loan Guarantee Program, created under the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, which provides for direct loans, loan guarantees and grants to utilities serving rural customers.

The largest loan, $68.5 million, will go to finance the construction of an 81-megawatt photovoltaic solar farm, to be constructed by NextEra Energy Resources near Stuttgart, Ark.

The second largest loan, $50 million, is going to Union EMC in Monroe, N.C. The investment will add 7,430 new customers, a 10 percent increase, by building 420 miles of new lines and improving 49 miles of existing lines. The loan includes $827,225 for smart grid projects.

The Southside Electric Cooperative in Crewe, Va. will receive a $47.4 million loan enabling it to add 2,578 customers by building 138 miles of new lines along with other improvements. The loan includes $269,536 for smart grid projects. Southside has about 18,250 miles of power lines, providing service to 56,000 customers in 18 counties and one independent city in south central Virginia.

Among the other loans are:

    • $11 million to the San Miguel Power Association in Nucla, Colo. The money will be used to build 205 miles of lines, improve 47 miles of existing lines and make other system improvements. The loan amount also includes $571,654 for smart grid projects. San Miguel serves 13,473 customers through 3,800 miles of lines in seven western Colorado counties, including the ski resort Telluride.
    • $8 million to the North Western Electric Cooperative in Bryan, Ohio. The loan will be used to build 20 miles of lines, improve 45 miles and make other system improvements, adding 140 customers. The loans also include $1.2 million for smart grid projects. North Western serves more than 6,000 consumers in four largely agricultural counties.
    • $4.5 million to the Federated Rural Electric Association in Jackson, Minn., to build $19 miles of lines and improve 32 miles of existing lines, adding 100 customers. The loan provides $1.8 million for smart grid projects. Federated serves 6,800 consumers in seven agricultural counties in southern Minnesota and four in northwest Iowa.

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