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USDA funds projects to boost rural electric grid efficiency, reliability

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced funding for four rural electric projects in eight states to provide reliable, affordable electricity for rural residents. USDA remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. The announcement is one part of the Department’s efforts to strengthen the rural economy. Vilsack made the announcement during the legislative conference of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in Washington.

“Next month, USDA’s Rural Utilities Service will celebrate 78 years of serving rural America and today’s announcement adds to that impressive history,” Vilsack said. “Working with our partners, the Obama administration and USDA will continue to support projects—like those announced today—that strengthen our rural electric grid and increase overall efficiency.”

These are the latest round of the approximately 650 rural electric utility projects that have been funded since 2009 that help provide reliable, affordable electricity to rural areas. Vilsack said that these projects benefit an average of 8.6 million rural electric consumers annually. Smart grid technology, he said, is another tool to increase efficiency and reliability of the rural electric system. Since 2011, rural electric cooperatives have used USDA funding to invest nearly $500 million in smart grid improvements, providing for more strategic management of the rural electric system. Since 2009, USDA has funded over $834 million in renewable energy projects.

The plan includes more than $126 million in loans to upgrade rural electric infrastructure, including more than $20 million in smart grid funding. Since 2011, USDA has supported smart grid investments totaling nearly $500 million. The funding announced today will help finance the construction of more than 800 miles of new or improved electric line.

One of the rural electric cooperatives that will receive funding is Colorado’s Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., which serves 44 consumer-owned distribution cooperatives. It is receiving a $73 million loan to upgrade generation and transmission facilities, improve 50 miles of transmission line and build a substation. The loan amount includes more than $18 million for smart grid projects.

The following is a partial list of rural electric utilities that will receive USDA funding, contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the loan agreement.

Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming: Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc.—$72,977,000 loan. Funds will be used to upgrade generation and transmission facilities, improve 50 miles of transmission line and build a substation. The loan amount includes more than $18 million for smart grid projects.

Texas and New Mexico: Rio Grande Electric Cooperative, Inc.—$20,929,000 loan. Funds will be used to build 495 miles of distribution line and make system improvements. The loan amount includes $1,409,000 for smart grid projects.

USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has a portfolio of programs designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America.

Date: 5/6/2013

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