Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced funding May 6 for projects in 18 states to improve electric service to business and residential consumers in rural areas.

The $540 million in loan guarantees to fund these projects are made available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural utilities program. They include more than $35 million for smart grid projects to improve rural electric system communications technology.

“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,” Vilsack said in a news release. “This funding is part of the Obama Administration’s vision for a new rural energy economy. Investments in smart grid technologies help rural electric cooperatives improve system operations to meet the needs of rural customers.”

USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel said, “These essential USDA Rural Development funds will assist Fox Islands Electric Cooperative with valuable Smart Grid improvements and will improve 9 miles of distribution line for these rural Maine island communities, helping their sustainability in the long run.”

The Obama Administration has invested more than $28 billion in rural electric infrastructure nationwide since 2009.