Within the next few years, the 14 substations at Meeker Cooperative Light and Power Association will be able to communicate with each other.
The Litchfield, Minnesota, electric co-op will use a $7.1 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to install a fiber backbone that will enable two-way communications between the substations and headquarters. The funds are a portion of the $22 million the co-op received from USDA’s Electric Loan Program to improve its distribution system.
Once the fiber project is completed in 2022, it “will keep us better informed on whether the problem is at the substation or further down the line,” said Tim Mergen, CEO and general manager at the co-op.
“Right now, we check problems in person or rely on radio frequency that will send us a reading,” he said. “We still have to a send a crew to manually correct the problem.”
The money, approved Oct. 9 through USDA’s Electric Loan Program, will help co-ops build or improve 1,971 miles of power lines and finance smart grid technologies. About 231,000 residents and businesses in 12 states will benefit from the improved rural electric infrastructure.
“These investments in essential electric grid upgrades help to improve the quality of life in rural communities, create rural jobs and strengthen America’s economy,” said Donald “DJ” LaVoy, deputy undersecretary for rural development, in announcing the loans.
Not all the loan recipients were co-ops. In Maine, a solar investor will use a $1.7 million loan to work with wastewater districts on installations in two counties.
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.