USDA loans three Arkansas electric co-ops nearly $90 million for rural power projects

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 325 views 

Three Arkansas electric cooperatives will receive nearly $90 million in loans as part of more than $2.5 billion in loan awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve rural power grids and electric infrastructure across the country.

USDA Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the funding from the Trump administration will support rural electric infrastructure improvements to help create jobs and support economic development in 27 states.

“These significant investments will help develop and maintain modern, reliable electric infrastructure that businesses and rural communities need in a 21st Century economy,” Perdue said.

Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative (AVECC) in Ozark, the Forrest City-based Woodruff Electric Cooperative, and South Central Arkansas Electric Cooperative in Arkadelphia, were awarded $44 million, $37 million, and $5 million, respectively.

Woodruff Electric, which provides electric service to rural communities in Cross, Lee, Monroe, Phillips, Prairie, St. Francis and Woodruff counties, will use the USDA funds to add 222 new miles to the non-profit co-op’s existing 5,000-mile power grid. Proceeds from the federal government loan will also be used to improve an additional 75 miles of line and make other system improvements.

“These funds are absolutely vital for the cooperative in maintaining and improving electric service reliability to our member-owners that we serve,” Woodruff CEO and President Michael Swan said of the 12,000-member rural utility. “(These) USDA investments are greatly appreciated and much needed for the continued development of rural communities like the areas we serve here in Eastern Arkansas.”

On the other side of the state in the Fort Smith metro, Arkansas Valley will use the rural development funds to add 183 miles to the electric operative’s more than 8,300 miles of distribution lines, as well as improving another 176 miles of line and making other system upgrades. Greg Davis, Arkansas Valley’s member service manager, said the USDA loan will also help the rural utility build infrastructure to meet forecasted long-term growth in membership.

“(We) plan to upgrade system technologies and distribution infrastructure. The improvements will help maintain and strengthen overall reliability,” Davis said in a statement to Talk Business & Politics. “These system additions and upgrades will provide AVECC better diagnostic capabilities, which will allow us greater management of our overall distribution system when completed.”

Davis said Arkansas Valley’s partnership with USDA is critical to the cooperative’s ability to maintain, expand and improve electric infrastructure. “These funds help to provide AVECC’s members and communities with affordable and reliable power,” he said

Headquartered in Ozark, Arkansas Valley also has district offices in Waldron, Van Buren and Pocola, Okla., that serve members in 10 counties in Arkansas and three in Oklahoma. A year ago, Arkansas Valley partnered with Today’s Power Inc. – the renewable energy subsidiary of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. – to build the 500,000-watt solar array on 1.5 acres at the cooperative’s Van Buren District Office.

In Arkadelphia, South Central officials plans to use the $5 million USDA award to finance smart grid projects across the cooperatives’ eight county footprint in Southwest Arkansas. The rural utility has nearly 2,000 miles of distribution lines that serve 7,300 member accounts.

Altogether, USDA is awarding $127 million for smart grid projects, which include technological enhancements such as metering, substation automation, computer applications, two-way communications and geospatial information systems to help utilities increase the reliability and efficiency of electric power systems.

Three North Carolina companies – Gamble Solar, LLC; Wadesboro Solar; and Salisbury Solar – received a total of $14.1 million to build solar photovoltaic energy farms in various parts of the state.

USDA officials also said the $2.5 billion investment by the Trump administration will support infrastructure improvements in Alaska, Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The loans are being provided through USDA Rural Development’s Electric Program, which is the successor to the Rural Electrification Administration.

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