USDA Awards $2.7 Billion in Loans to Improve Rural Electric Infrastructure

More than $2 billion in USDA loans will help electric co-ops expand and improve electric infrastructure. (Photo By: Earl Stuart)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced $2.7 billion in loans for rural electric cooperatives and utilities to expand and modernize their electric infrastructure and increase grid security.

The latest round of Electric Loan Program funds will go toward 64 projects benefiting nearly 2 million people in 26 states.

“This funding will help rural cooperatives and utilities invest in changes that make our energy more efficient, more reliable and more affordable,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Investing in infrastructure—roads, bridges, broadband and energy—supports good-paying jobs and keeps the United States poised to lead the global economy.”

The loans include $613 million for installing and updating smart grid technologies, and nearly half of the awards will help finance improvements in underserved communities.

One of the largest awards will go to Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative, which serves a high-poverty but fast-growing five-county area near Tampa, Florida. The Dade City-based co-op will use its $212 million loan to build and improve 580 miles of transmission line.

About $32 million will be used for substation and transmission projects, and another $17 million will strengthen smart grid technologies, the co-op said. The largest portion, $58 million, will go toward new underground electric infrastructure to serve new residential subdivisions.

Last year, the co-op added 9,000 new accounts, and it expects to exceed that this year, said David Lambert, WREC’s manager of member relations.

“We’re growing substantially,” he said. “These new loan funds will be used for system expansions in those areas.”

Other sizable co-op loans include:

  • Clark Energy Co-op, Winchester, Kentucky: $26 million to build and improve more than 250 miles of power line in 12 central Kentucky counties. The loan also includes about $500,000 for smart grid technologies.
  • Marshall County REMC, Plymouth, Indiana: $10 million to build and improve 75 miles of line in six counties in northern Indiana and nearly $1 million for smart grid technologies.
  • Rusk County Electric Cooperative, Henderson, Texas: $24.6 million to connect an estimated 2,000 new members and build and improve 91 miles of line in five counties spanning 4,000 square miles. Projects include voltage conversion upgrades, a new transmission feed and substation construction. The loan also includes about $1.4 million for smart grid technologies.

View the full list of recipients and projects.

Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.