FAQ: What's being done to improve electricity distribution grid in rural Iowa? I've heard our REC in eastern Iowa is investing in something called Smart Grid Technology, with USDA help.
Answer: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative's headquarters in Wilton, Iowa, in July to announce a $44 million USDA electric loan that will help improve nearly 350 miles of electric distribution lines throughout eastern Iowa.
The $44 million loan to Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative is the largest electric distribution loan ever issued by USDA's Rural Utilities Services in Iowa. It will assist the electric cooperative with implementing its four-year construction and system-improvement plan.
Loan includes investment in Smart Grid Technology
The loan includes $580,000 in smart-grid technology and other improvements such as installation of automated substation re-closers, or large circuit breakers that can be controlled remotely to turn off power during storms, new advanced metering infrastructure for system users and 60 new substation control buildings to protect the new equipment and technologies.
More than $5.3 million of the loan will be used to improve electric lines that were damaged during historic ice storms impacting eastern Iowa from 2007 to 2009. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assisted Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative with recovery and restoration of electric services immediately following the storms. The co-op is using USDA's electric loan program to complete additional upgrades to electric lines to help protect them against future storm damages.
Committed to next generation of power transmission
"Eighty years ago, USDA took on the challenge of bringing power to rural America and it helped make this the greatest, most productive country on Earth," said Vilsack. "Today we are continuing that commitment by investing in the next generation of power transmission – smart grid technology – to make our electric system more reliable, efficient and effective. Upgrading the electric grid will not only improve reliability and better manage costs, but it will also bring jobs and increased economic opportunities, helping to build a sustainable and dynamic future for communities in eastern Iowa."
Eastern Iowa Light and Power Cooperative provides power to nearly 19,000 homes, farms and businesses in Cedar, Clinton, Louisa, Muscatine and Scott counties, as well as portions of Des Moines, Henry, Jackson, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Washington counties.
The funding is being provided through USDA Rural Development's Electric Program, which makes insured loans and loan guarantees to non-profit and cooperative associations, public bodies and other utilities. The loans primarily finance the construction of electric distribution facilities in rural areas.
Increasing the reliability of electric power
Smart grid 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 system improvements.
USDA has been committed to improving production and transmission of electricity for rural America since the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935. In 2014 alone, USDA's Rural Utilities Service awarded $2.7 billion in electric loans. These loans helped 4.6 million rural residents receive improved electric service.
USDA also continues to invest in renewable energy
Since 2009, nearly $31 billion in USDA electric loans have helped improve and modernize rural electric infrastructure that serves more than 8.6 million rural residents and businesses including 168,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines across the nation, and 9,348 miles in Iowa. In addition, USDA has made strategic investments in renewable energy, smart grid technology and air quality improvement technologies.
For an idea of the scale of these investments, consider this: The 350 miles of repaired line in eastern Iowa announced today would more than stretch from one end of Iowa to the other and the more than nine thousand miles of line that USDA has invested in since 2009 would encircle the state more than nine times.