ST. CLOUD -- A Litchfield-based electric co-op has been awarded a $22 million loan by the United States Department of Agriculture to improve rural access to electricity.

Meeker Cooperative Light & Power Association provides service to nearly 9,000 homes and businesses in Meeker, Wright, Stearns, McLeod, Kandiyohi and Renville counties.

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith co-announced the rural electric infrastructure loan Friday.

"Rural homes, businesses, schools, airports and hospitals all need reliable electricity, and improving our electrical grid is vital to building a 21st century economy that works for everyone," Smith says. "This USDA investment in rural Minnesota's electrical infrastructure, including smart grid technology, could help reduce power outages, integrate renewables and lower energy costs for consumers."

"Projects like this not only boost the economy, but also support good-paying jobs and maintain services that Minnesotans rely on," says Klobuchar.

The Rural Development Investment will fund distribution facilities to connect 160 consumer lines and improve nearly 250 miles of distribution line. It will also fund
$7 million dollars in smart grid technologies, a variety of energy-efficient measures including smart meters, smart appliances, renewable energy resources, and energy efficient resources.

Meeker Cooperative Light & Power Association services 14 substations and nearly 2,000 miles of electric line.