Trying to keep pace with growth along the U.S. Highway 84 corridor, a rural electric cooperative will get $31 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to complete system upgrades, the company confirmed.
The money comes in the form of loans, but cooperatives pay low interest rates and pay back only what they actually spend. The money will allow the Heart of Texas Electrical Cooperative to build or improve almost 1,600 miles of power line serving almost 2,600 of the co-op’s 23,000 customers, according to a USDA announcement of the loan.
The McGregor-based Heart of Texas Electric Cooperative primarily serves farmers, ranchers and rural landowners, but not exclusively, general manager Brandon Young said. It also provides power to the Trane plant that makes heating and air-conditioning systems at Highway 84 and Cotton Belt Parkway, and to the 100,000-square-foot Vossloh Fastening Systems plant nearby.
“This is a work-plan loan for growth, and we’ve experienced a lot of it, especially near Highway 84,” Young said.
The member-owned cooperative does not supply electricity in McGregor city limits, or to SpaceX, which operates a rocket-testing facility in the McGregor industrial park. Oncor services those accounts, he said.
But residential and small commercial development in western McLennan County has spilled over into the cooperative’s service area, Young said.
He said the company provides electricity to about 23,000 meters across seven counties in Central Texas, including a stretch from the Twin Rivers Golf Club on Highway 84 to the Coryell County town of Gatesville.
He said the unincorporated Moffat community near Lake Belton in Bell County also is seeing tremendous growth the cooperative must address.
“We have 3,700 miles of distribution line to maintain, and the money we’re receiving from the USDA is meant to assist with maintenance and upgrades over a four-year period,” Young said. “That figure is based upon engineering plans and estimates of economic growth.”
The cooperative received “just north of $20 million” during the last four-year term, he said. The USDA allows electric companies to draw down their allocations as needed, and Heart of Texas did not spend all it could have the past four years, Young said.
He said that fact would not have hampered efforts to get more money since the USDA realizes economic conditions fluctuate.
Young said the cooperative, which has a district office in Rosebud and generates about $39 million in revenue annually, is seeing 3 to 4 percent meter growth annually, “much of it urban sprawl out of Waco.”
The $31 million bound for Central Texas is part of a $485 million loan package the USDA has approved for projects in 13 states, according to a press release on the package. The largest allocation, totaling almost $150 million, goes to Cooperative Energy in Mississippi, which has “more that 56,000 miles of distribution line serving more than 498,000 meters,” and more than 1 million Mississippians in 55 counties, according to the USDA.
The loan “will be used to make environmental upgrades, replace gas turbines, build transmission lines and substations, and make other improvements,” according to the USDA.
The rural electric loans are part of a program authorized by the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, according to USDA information.