Petit Jean Electric Cooperative Corp. in Clinton is the lone Arkansas recipient to receive a portion of $3.6 billion in loans from the Obama administration to fund 82 electric projects in 31 states.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the loans will finance infrastructure upgrades, create jobs and improve system operations for rural electric customers nationwide. The Van Buren County electric cooperative, which serves 19,286 metered members, will receive $21.6 million from the USDA to build and improve 135 miles of electric lines and other system upgrades.
Bill Conine, general manager and CEO of the north central Arkansas electric cooperative, said the USDA loan will go toward the rural electric company’s multi-year work plan to upgrade the system transmission lines and energy grid across nine counties.
“This is good news. It is the result of a four-year work plan that our consultant did for us, and this loan is for projects in that work plan,” Conine said. “It is all to improve the service and reliability to the members we serve.”
Conine said work began on the transmission upgrades in early 2016 and will continue over the next four years. Petit Jean Electric serves all of Van Buren and Searcy counties south of the Buffalo River and parts of seven other north central Arkansas counties. Conine said there are nearly 3,600 miles of transmission line that serves the cooperative’s nearly 20,000 members.
Nationwide, the $3.6 billion in USDA loans will build or improve 12,500 miles of transmission and distribution line. It includes $216 million for smart grid technologies, $35 million for renewable energy, $26 million for environmental improvements, and nearly $1.8 million for energy efficiency.
The loans are being provided through the Rural Utilities Service, the successor to the Rural Electrification Administration. Eighty years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the law that charged USDA to provide electric power to rural America. The Electric Program makes loans and loan guarantees to non-profit and cooperative associations, public bodies and other utilities.
“For 80 years, rural electric utilities have provided reliable and affordable electricity to help rural communities increase productivity and build stronger economies,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “These loans will help them continue to do that. The utilities and cooperatives will use some of the money to finance energy efficiency projects, renewable fuel systems and smart grid technologies to increase our energy independence and improve rural electric infrastructure.”
In addition to today’s announcement, USDA said it has invested $38 billion in electric loans and more than $1 billion for smart grid technologies since 2009, helping build more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution. Smart grid technology increases the reliability of electric power by helping utilities better manage the electric grid to improve operational efficiencies. It includes metering, substation automation, computer applications, two-way communications, geospatial information systems and other improvements.
Improvements to rural electric utility systems help to provide reliable and affordable electricity to rural customers, increasing efficiencies, reducing carbon emissions and improving the quality of life in rural areas, USDA officials said.