USDA Awards More Than $47 Million To Arkansas Coops For System Upgrades

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 300 views 

Three Arkansas electric cooperatives received more than $47 million in federal grant funding as part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to improve “smart grids” and upgrade electric infrastructure projects in rural areas across the country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday (Oct. 22).

The multimillion dollar grant awards to the Craighead Electric Co-op Corp. in Jonesboro, the Clay County Electric Co-op  in Corning, and Today’s Power, the renewable arm of the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Inc. (AECI) in Little Rock, were part of a $2.3 billion loan package handed out to 77 utilities and cooperatives in 31 states by the USDA’s Rural Development’s Electric Program.

“Improving our rural electric utility systems will help us continue to provide reliable and affordable electricity to rural customers,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. “By financing these improvements, USDA helps increase efficiencies, reduce carbon emissions and improve the quality of life in rural areas.”

According to USDA officials, the funding includes more than $108 million for smart grid technology, $41 million for renewable energy improvements and $9 million for storm damage repairs. The loans will also help build or improve 12,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines, officials said.

In Arkansas, Craighead County utility received more than $31.5 million to upgrade 326 miles of electric transmission lines in northeast Arkansas. The Jonesboro-based electric coop also received another $215,000 for smart grid technology and $1.07 million for storm damage repairs in the utility’s service area across seven counties.

The Clay County member-owned utility received $15 million to build or improve 464 miles of the electricity lines in the cooperative’s three-county service area near the Missouri state line. The Corning-based electric cooperative, which has members in Clay, Randolph and Greene counties, also received a $2.4 million grant to modernize its grid system.

According to the USDA, smart grid increases the reliability of electric power by helping utilities better manage the electric grid to improve operational efficiencies. The upgrades to the Arkansas cooperatives could include metering, substation automation, computer applications, two-way communications, geospatial information systems and other improvements.

Today’s Power will receive the remaining $10 million from the USDA program to expand its renewable energy programs in Arkansas. Since formed by AECI earlier this year, Today’s Power has completed a number deals to provide renewable energy to a number of companies and utility in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Two of those deals include agreements to provide solar power systems for the Ouachita Electric Cooperative of Camden and Ozarks Electric Cooperative of Fayetteville.

In Camden, the 100-kilowatt Ouachita Electric solar project will involve installing 12 solar panels on the South Arkansas electric cooperative’s campus. The northwest Arkansas project, which is scheduled for completion in the second quarter of 2016, will involve installing 4,080 solar panels on a six-acre site in Springdale. The output of the energy produced by the solar array could provide for the power needs of up to 160 homes, Ozark coop officials said.

Last week, Today’s Power inked another deal to provide two-250 kilowatt AC solar arrays for Electric Research & Manufacturing Cooperative (ERMCO) at its transformer manufacturing facility in Dyersburg, Tenn. The solar energy produced by the system will be used to produce transformers at the facility, officials said.

Funding of each federal award announced Thursday is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the loan or grant agreement, USDA officials said. Since 2009, USDA has funded $34 billion in electric loans and more than $1 billion for smart grid technologies. This assistance has helped build more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving approximately 8.5 million rural customers.

Link here to see the full list of 77 award winners.