Electric cooperatives looking to bolster their cybersecurity and grid security have a new but familiar financial resource to make it happen—the Rural Utilities Service.

This year, a new category for cybersecurity opens under the existing RUS loan programs.

“It’s a small provision in a very large piece of legislation, and we want to ensure that co-ops realize they have access to these funds for their cyber efforts,” said Barry Lawson, NRECA’s senior regulatory issues director.

NRECA successfully advocated for a provision in the 2018 Farm Bill, which was enacted in December, to make RUS loan money available for co-ops to address cybersecurity as well as electricity infrastructure needs.

“This provision explicitly allows electric co-ops to apply RUS loans and loan guarantees for cybersecurity purposes,” said Bridgette Bourge, NRECA legislative affairs director.

Co-ops have long borrowed money under this U.S. Department of Agriculture program traditionally associated with infrastructure improvements. Now, they can also pursue those loans and loan guarantees for cybersecurity projects, which can run the gamut from assessments to hardware and software solutions.

Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner, a Republican, and Michael Bennet, a Democrat, sponsored the provision and ensured its inclusion in the Farm Bill.

“Given the increasing interconnectedness and overall strategic importance of our energy grid, we need to encourage and support cybersecurity investments at energy utilities of all sizes,” said Gardner. “I was proud to author this amendment, which makes cybersecurity investments an eligible use of low-cost Rural Utility Service loans, helping our rural and public utilities continue to do their part in defending our energy systems.”

“This is a great resource to help our members advance their cybersecurity capabilities,” said Cynthia Hsu, NRECA cybersecurity program manager and lead for the Rural Cooperative Cybersecurity Capabilities (RC3) Program.

The RC3 Cybersecurity Self-Assessment Toolkit is available free for co-ops to help improve their cybersecurity program, Hsu said, “and these low-interest loans can provide a financing mechanism to help implement solutions.”

To apply for RUS loans for cybersecurity, contact the USDA general field representative for your service area on this map, or call the department at 202-720-1422.