The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing US$122 million to expand and upgrade rural electric systems in Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma and South Dakota. The funding includes more than US$7 million to finance smart grid technologies to improve system operations and monitor grid security. The announcement was recently made by the acting assistant to the secretary for rural development, Joel Baxley.
“Modern and reliable electric infrastructure is foundational to building prosperity in rural America,” Baxley said. “Under the leadership of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the USDA is committed to being a strong partner in improving this essential infrastructure.”
The USDA is investing in seven projects through funds from the Electric Loan Program. The loans will help build or improve 964 miles of line to benefit more than 6,200 business and residential customers.
South Dakota’s West River Electric Association, for example, is receiving a US$30-million loan to build or improve 163 miles of line, serve 1049 new customers and finance US$2.4 million in smart grid technologies. Smart grid includes computer applications, two-way machine-to-machine communications, geospatial information systems and other tools to increase the reliability and efficiency of electric power systems. West River serves 16920 residential and commercial consumers in an area largely dependent on agriculture, tourism and business activity.
Southern Indiana Rural Electric Cooperative Inc. will use a US$10.5-million loan to build or improve 92 miles of line to enhance system operations for 600 rural consumers. The loan also includes more than US$1.5 million for smart grid technologies. Southern Indiana serves 9300 consumers over 1643 miles of line across five counties. Its service territory includes both agricultural and industrial consumers, such as woodworking, furniture manufacturing, logging, rock quarrying, coal mining, crude oil production and manufacturing of steel products.
In April 2017, President Donald J. 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, Secretary 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.