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USDA Announces Smart Grid Funding and 1,000 Miles of Line on 80th Anniversary of Rural Electrification

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this month announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing more than $100 million in loans to build or improve 1,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines for rural electric cooperative utilities in four states.

“We commend rural electric cooperative utilities nationwide as we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration,” Vilsack said. “Investments we make to provide rural communities with electricity are critical to our nation’s economy. Our commitment to rural electricity has powered our growing agricultural exports, a burgeoning bio-economy and the quality of life for rural Americans.”

The four loans include $9 million for smart grid improvements. In Indiana, Johnson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation will use a $14 million loan to build or improve 345 miles of line and make other system improvements, including $4.8 million for smart grid projects.

Thumb Electric Cooperative of Michigan will use a $25 million loan to build or improve 93 miles of line and make other system improvements, including a $2.7 million smart grid investment.

In North Dakota, Slope Electric Cooperative, Inc., has been selected to receive a $12.5 million loan to build or improve 66 miles of line and make other system improvements, including $432,000 for smart grid technologies.

South Carolina’s Santee Electric Cooperative, Inc., is receiving $54.8 million to build or improve 605 miles of line for residential and business customers. The loan also includes $3 million for storm damage restoration.

USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, which funds utility infrastructure in rural areas, is the successor to the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), which was created by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 11, 1935. Congress approved statutory authority for the REA on May 20, 1936. The agency became part of USDA in 1939.

USDA is providing $106.3 million in electric system infrastructure loans in this month’s announcement. The Rural Utilities Service awarded $2.4 billion in electric loans in 2014 to help 4.6 million rural residents receive improved electric service. Since 2009, USDA has invested almost $31 billion in rural electric systems, including more than $1 billion in renewable energy projects.

“While the country suffered in the Great Depression, President Roosevelt led a national commitment to bringing power to rural America,” Vilsack added. “That commitment helped make America the breadbasket of the world and most productive country in history. USDA’s Rural Utilities Service is honoring that commitment by taking on today’s challenges, including smart grid technology and advanced telecommunications and broadband access.”

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