NEW ORLEANS—The U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding about $900 million in loans for 20 rural electrification projects across 16 states, Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky announced Wednesday at NRECA’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

The projects will build or improve 2,700 miles of power lines that serve 1 million residents and businesses with $17 million going toward smart grid technology, he said. The bulk of these USDA Electric Loan Program funds will go to projects at 18 electric co-ops.

“Cooperatives have been the champions of rural electric infrastructure, the lifeblood of America’s heartland, in every state across the country since the Rural Electrification Administration’s efforts in the 1930s,” Censky said.

Winchester-based East Kentucky Power Cooperative will receive a $347 million loan to improve the reliability of its generation system for the 540,000 consumers its member co-ops serve.

East River Electric Power Cooperative, headquartered in Madison, South Dakota, will receive nearly $200 million to build or upgrade 604 miles of transmission line and hang 65 miles of fiber cable between substations for smart system communications.

In addition to lauding co-ops for operating and maintaining rural power lines, Censky recognized their work in helping bridge the gap between urban hubs with broadband internet access and small, agricultural communities without.

“Just as rural electricity changed and transformed rural America, we believe closing the digital divide will also be transformative,” he said.

USDA in 2018 launched the ReConnect program to provide loans, grants and loan-grant combos to rural broadband providers and has awarded more than $143 million to electric co-ops to date. Applications for the latest round of funding are due March 16.

Explore NRECA’s resources on broadband.

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