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The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday awarded $72,153,000 in loans to a Central Missouri-based electricity generation and transmission cooperative.

Central Electric Power Cooperative, headquartered in Jefferson City, is an electricity generation and transmission cooperative owned and operated by eight distribution cooperatives covering 22,000 square miles.

The award is part of a $485 million effort to upgrade rural electrical systems and reduce energy costs. Funding includes revenue for smart grid technologies — a system that uses digital communications technology to detect and react to local changes in usage — to improve system operations and monitor grid security.

CEPC is made up of Three Rivers Electric Cooperative in Linn, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Tipton, Howard Electric Cooperative in Fayette, Central Missouri Electric Cooperative in Sedalia, Cuivre River Electric Cooperative in Troy, Callaway Electric Cooperative in Fulton, Consolidated Electric Cooperative in Mexico and Boone Electric Cooperative in Columbia.

The money is intended to assist the cooperatives in making upgrades to allow facilities to meet peak load demands, conform to safety requirements, and improve the reliability and resiliency of the transmission system.

Central Electric will also construct backup control center facilities to ensure the continuity of operations in the event of a catastrophe. It serves about 187,000 customers — both residential and commercial — in 28 counties.

The loans are part of a broader national effort to promote agriculture, economic development, job growth, infrastructure improvements, technology innovation, energy security and quality of life in rural America.

Two years ago, President Donald Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, with the idea of identifying what legislative, regulatory and policy changes could be done to meet the goals.

The task force came up with five key areas that the government should emphasize: e-connectivity for rural America, improving quality of life, supporting a rural workforce, harnessing technological innovation, and economic development.

Improving the electrical infrastructure would work toward meeting may of the goals, the task force said.

"Innovations in manufacturing, mining and other non-agricultural industries can enhance worker efficiency and safety," the task force said. "At the core of these developments that will further grow the rural economy is the expansion of (Science, Technology, English and Math) education, research, regulatory modernization and infrastructure."

The task force said rural communities must have modern utilities to thrive.

"The modernization of built infrastructure for rural utilities is also an important component of quality of life and rural prosperity," it said. "This includes the full installation of smart grid technology throughout rural power systems."

Rural electric cooperatives have been deploying fiberoptic networks within their service areas to meet growing demand for smart grid services, such as demand-side management, distributed generation and renewable integration, and smart home technologies, as well as increased grid security.

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