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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced $540 million in funding for projects in 18 states to help improve electric service to business and residential consumers in rural areas.

The loan guarantees to fund the projects, the USDA notes, are made available through the department's rural utilities program and include more than $35 million for smart grid projects to upgrade rural electric system communications technology.

In Louisiana, USDA Rural Development will finance more than $200 million in loan guarantees to build or improve approximately 642 miles of line and finance more than $2.3 million in smart grid technologies.

Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. will receive $35 million to finance more than 400 miles of line and $5.4 million in smart grid technologies. Missouri-based Three Rivers Electric Cooperative, meanwhile, has $15 million coming its way, including $4.6 million for smart grid projects.

Georgia-based Canoochee Electric Membership Corp. has been awarded $19 million to build or augment 130 miles of line and make other system improvements. Of that total, $2.4 million are to be allocated for smart grid initiatives.

In addition, South Carolina-based Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative Inc. picked up $42 million in financing, including $5.9 million for smart grid technologies.

"Electric reliability is a critical component of the success of our rural economy. Today's loans will help continue to ensure the safety, reliability and affordability of electric service in rural areas," says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Investments in smart grid technologies help rural electric cooperatives improve system operations to meet the needs of rural customers."

The full list of the 2014 rural electric utility loan recipients can be found here.

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