Two rural Minnesota electric projects will receive a combined total of $25.55 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help improve service.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the grants last week as part of a $345.5 million investment in 20 rural projects across 14 states.

The money benefits communities with 10,000 or fewer residents. It comes from the Electric Infrastructure Loan Program, which helps pay for generation, transmission and distribution projects; system improvements; and energy conservation projects. The loans include $7.9 million for “smart grid” technology, which includes computer applications, two-way communications, geospatial information systems and other tools.

Freeborn-Mower Electric Cooperative of Albert Lea will get a $17.8 million loan to build 79 miles of line, improve 94 miles and make other system improvements. The co-op provides service to nearly 20,900 consumers over 2,962 miles of line in Dodge, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Mower and Steele counties in southeastern Minnesota and Worth County in north-central Iowa.

Goodhue County Electric Cooperative Association, based in Zumbrota, will get a $7.75 million loan to build 28 miles of line and improve 72 miles. The firm serves 5,088 customers in a region that relies heavily on agriculture and food processing. It has about 1,323 miles of line in all or portions of Dakota, Dodge, Goodhue, Olmsted, Rice and Wabasha counties.

Dan Browning


Landlocked city seeks lighthouse

They know it’s a long shot, but officials in this central Minnesota city are trying to get a Lake Superior lighthouse that the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has said it will transfer to a public body or nonprofit for education, park, recreation, cultural or historic preservation.

Sitting at the end of the south breakwater adjacent to the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge, the lighthouse has been deemed expendable by the U.S. Coast Guard. The federal government will keep an easement so it can maintain the beacon and foghorn, but it doesn’t need the whole structure, officials said.

Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin said local officials took an interest, thinking it might be nice to place in Robbins Island Park, near either Lake Willmar or Foot Lake. But it wasn’t clear after calls to the GSA whether it was possible to move the structure, Calvin said.

A GSA spokesperson said in an e-mail that the lighthouse will remain in its place.

City leaders are submitting a letter of interest just in case, Calvin said.

“We do understand it’s a long shot,” he said. “If nothing else we’ve gotten publicity over this.”

Pam Louwagie