The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved $1.6 billion in rural infrastructure loans for electric utilities nationwide, and Seminole Electric Cooperative received the program’s largest investment: $727 million to help build a large natural gas plant.

Lisa Johnson, CEO and general manager of the Tampa, Florida-based generation and transmission co-op, said the loan will cover most of the cost of the 1,050-MW natural gas-fired combined-cycle plant that is already under construction. The plant is expected to be completed and serving Seminole’s members by early 2023, she said. It will replace a coal-fired unit.

USDA announced its Electric Loan Program awards on June 22. The loans and loan guarantees will go toward 29 projects in 21 states and will upgrade or build about 9,100 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving 1 million rural residents and businesses, the agency said. About $386 million will go toward smart grid technology and digital communications to support resiliency.

“Reliable and modern 21st century infrastructure, including electric infrastructure and smart grid technologies, is a cornerstone for prosperity in rural America,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Among the other co-op recipients was Central Electric Power Cooperative in Columbia, South Carolina. The G&T co-op got a $70 million loan to build and improve 35 miles of transmission line, including $758,000 for smart grid technologies. Central provides power to all 20 of South Carolina’s electric co-ops, which serve over 800,000 retail consumer-members.

The Highline Electric Association, based in Holyoke, Colorado, will receive a $39 million loan to build and improve 262 miles of line, which includes $11.4 million for smart grid technologies. The co-op has about 10,500 members and 5,168 miles of transmission and distribution lines.

Dunn Energy Cooperative, headquartered in Menomonie, Wisconsin, will use its $9.5 million loan to connect nearly 600 members, and build and improve 73 miles of power lines that will benefit 10,000 members. Nearly $3.3 million will go toward smart grid technologies.

“We are thankful to USDA and RUS for working with us to serve the future needs of our members,” said Jesse Singerhouse, general manager and CEO of Dunn Energy Cooperative. “These funds will be used to further improve system reliability, extend service to new homes, farms and businesses in our service territory and to deploy smart grid technologies that will enhance the value of service our member-owners receive.”