Striving for a rural electrical infrastructure that is more efficient and more reliable, USDA has announced $276 million in funds awarded to rural electrical infrastructure projects. The loan guarantees, provided through the department's Rural Development’s Electric Program, will build nearly 1,000 miles of line and improve 733 miles of line to meet the needs of rural businesses and residents.
“Investing in our nation’s electric infrastructure is fundamental for rural economic growth,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “USDA’s longstanding partnerships with rural electric cooperatives help ensure that rural areas have affordable, reliable electric service. These investments also increase efficiency and productivity for businesses and residents, and support the quality of life in rural America.”
The funding announcement comes just one day ahead of a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing focused on rebuilding American infrastructure. Perdue is expected to testify, along with Wilbur Ross, Alexander Acosta, Elaine Chao and Rick Perry, respectively, the secretaries of Commerce, Labor, Transportation and Energy.
USDA’s investment will support $65 million in smart grid technologies intended to reduce outages and integrate new systems. This action drives home a point made in the department's Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, in which the USDA recommended "the full installation of smart grid technology throughout rural power systems." Smart grid includes technological enhancements such as metering, substation automation, computer applications, two-way communications and geospatial information systems.
The investments are for projects in Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio and Virginia. The most costly project is a $74 million loan to Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation in Brownstown, Ind. The utility will build 84 miles of line and improve 32 miles to provide reliable, affordable electricity to 20,000 residential and business consumers. The loan includes $59.3 million for smart grid technologies.
Kentucky’s Shelby Energy Cooperative is receiving a $22.3 million loan to build 60 miles of line, improve 52 miles and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $384,199 for smart grid projects. Shelby serves 15,275 residential, 509 commercial and 125 seasonal consumers across 2,128 miles in 10 counties between Louisville and Lexington. Shelby’s service territory is largely rural. Its economy relies on agriculture and a fairly large commercial and industrial load. A shopping mall is expected to be added to the area in the near future.
North Dakota’s Slope Electric Cooperative Inc. will receive a $12.5 million loan to build 84 miles of line and improve 32 miles. Slope will use $400,000 to restore damage from storms last July. In Virginia, the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative will receive a $52 million loan to build 376 miles of line. Rappahannock serves 165,000 meters in parts of 22 counties.
In 2017, Bedford Solar received a $3 million USDA loan to build a three megawatt solar plant to provide electricity to a small rural town in Virginia. Built on a brownfield, Bedford Solar has helped stimulate local economic growth and development. It began providing electricity in January 2018, reducing energy costs, attracting new business and creating local jobs.
In April 2017, President Donald Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force.
USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community services such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.