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September 11, 2012

Backwoods, Not Backward: USDA Funds $27M for Rural Grid Advances



Last week’s announcement of more than $27 million in loan guarantees – to be apportioned among nine electric cooperatives and utilities in 10 states – has enabled the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reach its goal of $250 million in funding for America’s rural smart grid, according to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

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This achievement represents a key milestone in President Barack Obama's effort to modernize the nation's electric system.

"Grid modernization and deployment of smart grid technology will increase the reliability and efficiency of electric power generation," said Vilsack. "Providing reliable, affordable electrical service contributes to stronger rural economies and is the backbone for a prosperous rural America. These loans will help ensure that rural areas can retain existing businesses, support new ones; and have reliable, up-to-date infrastructure."

As part of President Obama's Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, the Administration has outlined a framework for a modernized electric system.

 Vilsack said this $250 million investment in loan funds for smart grid technologies will:

  • Invest in infrastructure at virtually no cost to the taxpayer
  •  Facilitate the integration of renewable sources of electricity into the grid
  • Help avoid blackouts and restore power more quickly when outages do occur
  • Reduce the need for new power plants

 Smart grid technologies also provide a foundation for innovation that will develop tools to empower consumers and help them make informed decisions. A first generation of innovative consumer products and services – such as thermostats that can be controlled from a smartphone, or websites that show how much energy a house is using – can continue to help Americans save money on their electricity bills.

Vilsack made the announcement during a tour of North Carolina's Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation, which received a $30,000,000 guaranteed loan from USDA to extend its system by 52 miles and help provide service to about 1,000 new member consumers.

The cooperative also will be able to increase capacity for 100 current consumers and improve the reliability of about 40 miles of line.

The cooperative installed a new automated meter system with funds from a previous loan and will invest approximately $150,000 of the funds from this new loan on new smart meters for the 1,000 new member consumers.


Image via Shutterstock

Vilsack also announced that two other cooperatives in North Carolina will receive loan guarantees. Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation will receive a $21,500,000 loan to build and improve 220 miles of distribution line and make other system improvements. Edgecombe-Martin County Electric Membership Corporation, which serves a rural area in the northeastern part of North Carolina, will receive a $6.4 million loan.

Due to its location, the borrower is vulnerable to extreme storm conditions, including hurricanes and Northeasters. The firm will use about $1 million of the loan to install smart meters.

The following is a list of rural utilities that will receive USDA funding, contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the loan agreement.

Colorado/ Nebraska/ New Mexico/ Wyoming

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc. – $140,483,000 loan. Funds will be used to build 50 miles of transmission line and make upgrades to the existing generation and transmission facilities. The loan amount includes $21,756,000 in smart grid projects and $808,780 in environmental improvements.

Kansas

The Ark Valley Electric Cooperative Association, Inc. – $6,130,000 loan. Funds will be used to build and improve 355 miles of distribution line and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $2,014,500 in smart grid projects.

Minnesota

Stearns Cooperative Electric Association – $23,654,000 loan. The cooperative will improve 147 miles of distribution line and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $974,085 in smart grid projects.

Agralite Electric Cooperative – $5,159,000 loan. Funds will be used to build and improve 61 miles of distribution line and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $180,968 in smart grid projects.

Missouri/Iowa

Northeast Missouri Electric Power Cooperative – $30,093,000 loan. Funds will be used to build and improve 24 miles of transmission line, build three new substations and make other improvements. The loan amount includes $500,000 in smart grid projects.

North Carolina

Edgecombe-Martin County Electric Membership Corporation – $6,410,000 loan. The cooperative will build and improve 310 miles of distribution line and two miles of transmission line; and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $1,084,728 in smart grid projects.

Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation – $30,000,000 loan. Funds will be used to build and improve 108 miles of distribution line and five miles of transmission line; and make other system improvements.

Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation – $21,500,000 loan. Funds will be used to build and improve 220 miles of distribution line and make other system improvements.

Wisconsin

Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative – $6,000,000 loan. Funds will be used to build and improve 88 miles of distribution line and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $255,833 in smart grid projects.

The $269 million in loan guarantees is being provided specifically by USDA Rural Development's Rural Utilities Service (RUS). The funding helps electric utilities upgrade, expand, maintain and replace rural America's electric infrastructure. USDA Rural Development also funds energy conservation and renewable energy projects. 


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Edited by Braden Becker
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