The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded $43.7 million in funding for rural smart grid projects. The USDA smart grid funding was part of a broader announcement of a total of $398.5 million to improve rural electric service in 13 states. The funding came in the form of low-interest loans.
The USDA smart grid funding could be good news for rural broadband providers, as smart grid projects rely on advanced communications infrastructure and rather than build that infrastructure themselves, some electric companies partner with broadband providers for that purpose. In some cases, this can help build a business case for fiber deployment to support broadband services in areas where it previously was not economically feasible.
At least one rural electric company in the latest group of funding recipients has partnered previously with a small rural broadband provider. Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative partnered with Consolidated Telephone Company on a previous buildout.
The need to deploy communications infrastructure to support the smart grid also is spurring some rural electric cooperatives to become broadband service providers themselves.
They list the award recipients; here are the three from MN:
- Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MN)
- Red River Valley Cooperative Power Association (MN)
- Federated Rural Electric Association (MN)
And more info on the MN projects…
Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative received $15,000,000 loan.
This Rural Development investment will add 575 consumers, build 42 miles of line, improve 38 miles and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $2,961,860 for smart grid projects. Mille Lacs Energy is headquartered in Aitkin. It serves about 15,150 consumers in Aitkin, Crow Wing and Mille Lacs counties. The economy of the territory is principally based on tourism, recreational activities and light industry.
Red River Valley Cooperative Power Association received $8,000,000 loan.
This Rural Development investment will add 414 consumers, build 47 miles of line, improve 44 miles and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $1,545,000 for smart grid projects. Red River Valley is headquartered in Halstad. It serves 4,606 customers over 1,802 miles of line in Clay, Norman and Polk counties in northwestern Minnesota. The economy of the service area is primarily agricultural.
Federated Rural Electric Association received $4,500,000 loan.
This Rural Development investment will add 100 consumers, build 19 miles of line, improve 32 miles and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $1,798,500 for smart grid projects. Federated is headquartered in Jackson. It provides electric service to 6,789 consumers in seven counties in southern Minnesota and four counties in northwestern Iowa. The service territory is primarily agricultural.