Agriculture Announces $858M to Upgrade Rural Electric Systems

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The department aims to enhance electric reliability for rural communities and finance new smart grid technologies.

The Agriculture Department is offering up $858 million to boost rural electric systems across 17 states. The program also includes more than $60 million to fund smart grid technologies that can strengthen system operations and better monitor grid security.

Electricity seems essential for modern life, but it can still be hard to come by or unreliable in rural America. Agriculture will enhance access for rural communities through its Electric Loan Program, which aims to maintain and modernize the nation’s rural electric infrastructure through “capital and leadership.”   

According to the agency, the funding program will help “build and improve” 3,741 miles of line to upgrade electric resilience and reliability in many rural areas. Agriculture estimates approximately 450,000 residential and commercial customers will benefit from the effort.

“Investing in our nation’s electric infrastructure powers our economy, creates jobs and helps deliver services such as education, training and health care to build stronger rural communities,” acting Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Joel Baxley said in a statement. “These loans will help rural electric cooperatives generate and distribute power to keep systems reliable and affordable for those who live and work in rural areas.”

Through the funding, Arkansas’ Carroll Electric Cooperative will receive more than $260 million to improve its electric grid reliability and security. The coop also plans to invest about $8.5 million in smart grid tech.

In Arizona, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority will collect a $94 million loan, with which it plans to construct a 55.1 megawatt solar facility to help serve about 26,000 rural customers on the Navajo Nation across Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

About $38 million will also be used by Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation in North Carolina and Georgia to build and improve 277 miles of line to connect 2,370 new customers.

In 2017, President Trump created an Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to pinpoint policy and regulatory fixes that could help promote prosperity for rural communities. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings in 2018, which cited increasing investments in rural infrastructure as a critical recommendation.