- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it will invest $398.5 million in projects to improve electricity service in rural areas through its Electric Infrastructure Loan Program. That includes $43 million to smart grid technology in several states to make electricity networks more efficient and responsive.
- The largest loan will send $68.5 million to back a solar farm run by NextEra Energy Resources in Arkansas, which could meet the needs of 21,000 homes.
- The loans will go to projects in 13 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
Nearly all of the selected projects contain some sort of smart grid component, often in addition to line construction and system improvements to expand service availability. It continues a string of smart grid investments through the Electric Infrastructure Loan Program, as the government tries to provide the seed money to not just expand electricity coverage, but make it more sustainable and modern.
The expansion of smart grid technology will also help bring more broadband connectivity to rural areas, since more wireless infrastructure is necessary to ensure homes and utilities are connected. That, in turn, should help cure the digital divide that has left rural areas less connected to the internet.
"Reliable and affordable electricity is undeniably a necessity in today’s world,” USDA Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett said in a statement. “Under the leadership of Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to being a strong partner in keeping our rural communities connected to this essential infrastructure.”
A July report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that rural households are paying as much as 40% more of their paychecks than urban homes on electricity, in part because of a lack of efficiency investment in rural areas and because of the challenges in bringing electricity access to far-flung homes. Projects that don’t just connect more homes, but connect them with an eye towards future technology, can help lower that disparity.