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Smart-Grid Technology Helps Both Consumers and Utilities

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In June 2011, the Obama administration announced a set of new initiatives designed to modernize the nation’s electric infrastructure, bolster electric-grid innovation and advance a clean- energy economy.

During that announcement Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack charged the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the goal of investing $250 million in smart-grid technology across the country. A year later, we are happy to report that USDA has met that goal.

Under the Department’s Rural Utilities Service we have administered loans to rural cooperatives to help modernize our smart-grid technologies. Rural Utilities Service has a long history of contributing to our country’s reliable infrastructure. Since 1936, the program has become the primary lender to more than 600 rural electric systems including electric cooperatives, public power systems and tribal utilities.

“This is one more step in our effort to modernize rural America’s electric grid,” Vilsack said. “Smart-grid technologies give consumers greater control over their electric costs and help utilities efficiently manage power generation and delivery.” Since fiscal 2011, USDA has funded more than $250 million in smart-grid projects serving rural consumers nationwide. This will further enable rural utilities to make efficiency improvements to the electric grid that will help consumers lower their electric bills by reducing energy use in homes and businesses.

According to President Obama’s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, this $250 million investment in loan funds for smart-grid technologies will facilitate the integration of renewable sources of electricity into the grid, help avoid blackouts and restore power quicker when outages occur and reduce the need for new power plants.

Smart-grid technologies also help consumers and entrepreneurs make informed decisions. Innovative consumer products and services – such as thermostats that can be controlled from a smart phone or websites that show how much energy a house is using – can help Americans save money on their electricity bills.

For example, many New Mexico electric cooperatives funded by USDA have begun to implement smart-grid technology, including automated meter reading and advanced metering infrastructure systems and related equipment. It’s expected it will take more than four years to convert the electric meters to the systems here in New Mexico.

This new technology sends electric usage information from the consumer to the cooperative. Ultimately, the technology is designed to cut labor costs and provide for better management of energy loads.

Since taking office, the president has made it his goal to ensure a cleaner, safer and more secure energy future, and one that ultimately breaks our dependence on foreign oil and moves our nation toward a clean energy economy that creates jobs and keeps America competitive.

New Mexico’s Rural Development office is dedicated to modernizing New Mexico’s electric grid and investing in transformational technologies that meet our state’s future needs.

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