Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced this week that USDA is investing $2.5 billion in rural electric infrastructure improvements to help create jobs and support economic development in 27 states.
“These significant investments will help develop and maintain modern, reliable electric infrastructure that businesses and rural communities need in a 21st Century economy,” Perdue said. “The loans I am announcing today will help utilities and cooperatives build new transmission and distribution lines, upgrade networks and facilities, and better manage the power grid.”
The funding will support infrastructure improvements in Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The loans are being provided through USDA Rural Development’s Electric Program, which is the successor to the Rural Electrification Administration.
“We are extremely pleased that USDA is making such a major investment in rural development and infrastructure through new loans to America’s electric cooperatives,” said Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “USDA is an important partner helping us illuminate rural America and empower the communities we serve. That partnership is critical to co-ops’ ability to maintain, expand and improve rural electric infrastructure.”
One of the USDA awards is an $18.3 million loan to the Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative (Espanola, N.M.) to build 58 miles, improve 28 miles of line and make other system improvements. Jemez will use $7 million for smart grid improvements.
In Oregon, the Harney Electric Cooperative is receiving an $11.7 million USDA loan to build 53 miles of line and make other system improvements. The Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative in Portola, Calif., will receive a $14.2 million loan to improve 44 miles of transmission and distribution line, build one mile and make other system improvements.
The Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative in Dade City, Fla., is receiving a $130 million loan to build 297 miles, improve 66 miles of line and make other system improvements. The loan includes $1.4 million for smart grid projects.
Smart grid includes technological enhancements such as metering, substation automation, computer applications, two-way communications and geospatial information systems to help utilities increase the reliability and efficiency of electric power systems. Today’s loans include $127 million for smart grid projects.
Three North Carolina companies – Gamble Solar, LLC; Wadesboro Solar; and Salisbury Solar – are receiving a total of $14.1 million to build solar photovoltaic energy farms in various parts of the state.
The announcement comes as another electric project that USDA helped support nears completion. Later this month, O2 emc, a North Carolina firm, will complete a solar project that has provided a local investment of more than $6 million in rural, southwest Virginia. The project has been a significant boost to the area’s economy, particularly for the local steel fabrication company. More than 80 percent of people who work at the 16-acre solar project live within a 30-mile radius. Many workers have acquired new skills that will allow them to create careers in the rapidly expanding solar energy industry. The project created work for more than 100 area residents during its construction phase. By early next year, it will create enough electricity to power more than 500 homes.
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; homeownership; 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.