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USDA Invests $276 Million in Rural Electric Infrastructure
Minnesota Ag Connection - 03/14/2018

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Tuesday the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $276 million in rural electric infrastructure to improve system efficiency and reliability. This announcement came the day before Perdue is set to testify alongside Secretaries Wilbur Ross, Alexander Acosta, Elaine Chao and Rick Perry at a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing focused on rebuilding American infrastructure.

"Investing in our nation's electric infrastructure is fundamental for rural economic growth," Secretary 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."

USDA's $276 million investment will build nearly 1,000 miles of line and improve 733 miles of line to meet current and future needs of rural businesses and residents. It will also support $65 million in smart grid technologies to help rural electric utilities reduce outages and integrate new systems.

Smart grid includes technological enhancements such as metering, substation automation, computer applications, two-way communications and geospatial information systems.

Investments are being made in Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio and Virginia. The loan guarantees are being provided through USDA Rural Development's Electric Program, which is the successor to the Rural Electrification Administration.

The Department is awarding 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 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 President 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.

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