USDA invests $1.6B to improve rural electric infrastructure

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The United States Department of Agriculture is investing $1.6 billion to improve electric reliability and resilience in rural areas across the country.

Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, made the announcement Thursday. The investment will include 46 rural electric utility infrastructure projects in 24 states, including two projects in Indiana.

The projects are being funded through USDA’s Electric Program. The investments aim to contribute to a stronger rural electric system by improving operations and reliability, according to USDA officials.

In all, the funding will help build or improve 5,833 miles of power lines. $307 million will go to smart grid technologies, which improve system operations and monitor grid security. 

The investments are expected to impact seven million rural businesses and residential electric consumers across the country. 

“Reliable and affordable power is an underpinning for economic development and quality of life,” Hazlett said. “Under the leadership of Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to being a strong partner in building prosperity in rural communities through the sustainment and modernization of rural electric infrastructure.”

Around 60,000 Hoosier customers will benefit from the planned efforts. Indiana’s projects include:

  • Tipmont REMC, with headquarters in Linden, will use a $61 million loan to build 33 miles of line, improve 95 miles and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $42,164,538 for smart grid projects. It serves more than 27,000 consumers over 2,669 miles of line in Benton, Boone, Carroll, Clinton, Fountain, Montgomery, Tippecanoe and White counties in western Indiana. The economy of the service area is largely dependent on agricultural activity, with corn and soybeans being the principal crops.
  • South Central Indiana REMC, based in Martinsville, will use a $100 million loan to build 28 miles of line, improve 153 miles, and make other system improvements, including an investment of nearly $88,000 for smart grid technologies to continue to provide reliable and affordable service to meet member needs. South Central was among the 38 rural electric cooperatives in Indiana formed in the 1930s. It now serves 33,500 residential and commercial consumers through 3,559 miles of line.

The nationwide project follows a report presented to President Donald Trump by the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in January of 2018.

The task force’s mission was to identify legislative, regulatory, and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. Its findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local, and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure was a key recommendation of the task force. 

You can view the full report here.

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