The U.S. Department of Agriculture is allotting $2.5 billion for rural electric infrastructure improvements in 27 states. In a statement, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) CEO Jim Matheson commended USDA for making such a major investment in rural development and infrastructure through new loans to America’s electric cooperatives. “USDA is an important partner helping us illuminate rural America and empower the communities we serve,” Matheson said. “Every business, farm, home and school has one essential need in common: access to reliable power.” The loans will allow co-ops to maintain and strengthen reliability of the electric grid through a wide range of projects, from the construction of new transmission and distribution lines to smart grid improvements and technology integration, Matheson said. “As policymakers consider ways to improve the country’s aging infrastructure, it is critical that rural America not be left behind.” NRECA represents the nation’s more than 900 not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states. The USDA loans are being provided by the department’s Rural Development Electric Program, which is the successor to the Rural Electrification Administration.