While urban areas may have benefitted from the technology transformation, many rural areas have not.
Recognizing this gap, the federal government has created a low interest loan program to help finance electric transmission upgrades for areas in need. This month, the program announced $251 million in funding for a dozen projects in rural areas across thirteen states.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Electric Loan Program makes insured loans and loan guarantees to nonprofit and cooperative associations, public bodies and other utilities primarily to finance the construction of electric distribution facilities in rural areas. However, the guaranteed loan program has been expanded and is now available to finance generation, transmission and distribution facilities. The loans and loan guarantees finance the construction of these facilities, including system improvements and replacements required to furnish and improve electric service in rural areas. They will also include demand side management, energy conservation programs and on-grid and off-grid renewable energy systems.
The $251 million will go to a variety of projects, including $38.2 million to finance smart grid technologies that improve system operations and monitor grid security.
The projects include $1.75 million in financing for a pair of 1 megawatt solar projects in Aroostook and Kennebec Counties, Maine. In North Carolina, a $16.7 million loan will finance improvements to generation systems at the Catawba Nuclear Station. A $54.4 million loan will build and improve 249 miles of line to improve service to 2,144 customers in Virginia and Maryland.
The awards will help build and develop 1,971 miles of line to improve electric reliability for customers in these areas. According to the USDA, the investments will benefit nearly 231,000 residents and businesses.