In late October, Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing $3.6 billion in loans to fund 82 electric projects for rural electric utilities in 31 states. The loans are earmarked to finance infrastructure upgrades and improve systems operations for rural electric customers nationwide.


“For 80 years, rural electric utilities have provided reliable and affordable electricity to help rural communities increase productivity and build stronger economies,” Vilsack said. “The utilities and cooperatives will use some of the money to finance energy-efficiency projects, renewable-fuel systems and smart-grid technologies to increase our energy independence and improve rural electric infrastructure.”


The loans are designed to build or improve 12,500 miles of transmission and distribution lines. They include $216 million for smart-grid technologies, $35 million for renewable-energy projects, $26 million for environmental-improvement projects, and almost $2 million for energy-efficiency projects.


The loans are being provided through the Electric Program of the Rural Utilities Service, the successor to the Rural Electrification Administration. 


Since 2009, the USDA has invested $38 billion in electric loans and more than $1 billion in smart-grid technologies, helping to build more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution.


While loans are being made in amounts as small as $525,000 to help Western Iowa Power Cooperative build a solar photovoltaic renewable generation system to supplement power needs and generate additional energy back to the grid, most of the loans are in the tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars.


The largest ($448.3 million) is to Oglethorpe Power Corp. in Georgia to make generation system improvements. Other sizeable loans include $158.2 million to Berkeley Electric Cooperative in South Carolina; $115 million to Georgia Transmission Corp.; $90 million to United Electric Cooperative Services in Texas; and $87 million to Dairyland Power Cooperative in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.