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USDA working to spread smart grid to rural regions

By Max Burkhalter
August 9, 2012
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced a large-scale plan to offer loan funds to help rural utility providers implement smart grid technologies. The program is designed to fuel the implementation of smart grid solutions that support improvements to power delivery during peak load times, transmission facilities and electric line infrastructure.

The program, which was announced when USDA rural utilities administrator Jonathan Adelstein when he visited the Southside Electric Cooperative in Crewe, Virginia, will offer millions of dollars in loans to different rural utility programs, including the SEC. In the SEC project, approximately $7.4 million will be devoted to building and upgrading infrastructure for a power distribution line, transmission line and other systems that will use smart grid technologies.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained that the upgrade to smart grid is not only key for improving utility functionality, but also spurring economic growth.

"Maintaining and upgrading rural electric systems improves system reliability, creates jobs and supports economic development," said Vilsack. "With these loans, we are continuing to help cooperatives provide reliable service to rural residents. A significant portion of this funding will go to smart grid technologies, helping consumers lower their electric bills and reducing peak demand for producers."

Funds for the project will come from the SDA Rural Development's Rural Utilities Service, which focuses its efforts are helping utility departments maintain, expand and replace utility architectures while also supporting goals for environmental efficiency and renewable energy use. Projects stemming from the new program will take place in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Kansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Iowa, North Dakota, Montana, Virginia and Texas.

Developing smart grid infrastructure is becoming a priority on many levels. For broad utility concerns, smart grid is essential because core power grid architectures often date back almost a century, leading to considerable reliability and maintenance issues. At the same time, environmental groups and energy-efficient businesses and consumers are often interested in the technology's ability to improve power management and enable renewable power deployment. In the data center sector, power efficiency is a leading to excitement about smart grids, while the ability to use smart microgrids is also an area of interest because they can improve power reliability and reduce costs. Smart grid innovation could have a major positive impact on the country as a whole.

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