The smart grid could be coming to a rural electric cooperative near you as the US delivers on a promise to improve power delivery by approving projects in 15 states.

As part of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) US$50 billion pot for infrastructure improvements, agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced yesterday that USDA is investing more than US$518 million in rural electric cooperatives to improve the delivery of electric power to communities in 15 states.

The Department released a complete list of recipients and projects that will receive funding in the states of Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, North and South Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

Smart grid projects

More than US$23 million of the funding is targeted at smart grid improvements, such as automated meter reading and load management automation and will be disbursed through the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

Today’s loan guarantees for electric systems will build or improve more than 5,600 miles of line in rural areas.

In New Mexico, for example, the USDA has approved a US$14.1 million loan to fund a 1 MW photovoltaic facility, 74 miles of line, and make other system improvements. The loan includes US$518,400 for smart grid projects and US$3.4 million for the renewable project.

While in Georgia, the Carroll Electric Membership Corporation will receive US$20.6 million to build or upgrade 441 miles of line and devote US$93,000 to smart grid technology.

Rural power matters

Historically, USDA has worked with rural utilities to help bring needed infrastructure and service improvements. Under the Rural Utilities Service Programme, the USDA has disbursed loans totalling US$1.8 billion for projects across 25 states.

While the lion’s share is aimed at core grid investments such as transmission and distribution lines and power generation, about US$45 million has gone to smart grid projects.