The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it will invest more than $106 million in Minnesota electric cooperatives to upgrade the state's rural electric grid.

The investments are part of $2.7 billion announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to help more than five dozen electric cooperatives and utilities expand and modernize service for nearly 2 million rural people and businesses across 26 states.

Minnesota cooperatives receiving loans include: McLeod Cooperative Power Association, $13 million; Red Lake Electric Cooperative, $9.1 million; PKM Electric Cooperative, $13.4 million; South Central Electric Association, $13 million; Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative, $35 million; and Beltrami Electric Cooperative, $22.7 million.

"The loans include nearly $10 million to help rural utilities and cooperatives install and upgrade smart grid technologies [which] can be a catalyst for broadband and other telecommunications services in unserved and underserved rural areas," according to a news release issued by the USDA.

Additional energy infrastructure financing is anticipated in the coming months as part of the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which provides more than $12 billion to the USDA "for loans and grants to expand clean energy, transform rural power production, create jobs and spur economic growth," the release said.



Another impairment removed from St. Louis River

One of several St. Louis River "impairments" — environmental problems that keep the river on a national list of polluted Great Lakes sites — has been eliminated.

The "degraded fish and wildlife populations" impairment has been lifted from a list related to the river's Area of Concern pollution designation, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said last week.

Federal, state, local and tribal efforts to clean up the river and remove it from the list have been ongoing for more than three decades.

The river originally had nine impairments and now five remain. Projects completed to improve fish and wildlife populations include habitat restoration for piping plover, terns and fish.

A $113 million federal cash infusion for St. Louis River projects was announced last spring, bringing it closer to removal from the list. About a dozen projects are underway or awaiting funding, with money designated for problems that came before modern-day regulations. Most of the projects involve dredging to remove contaminated soil or creating better wildlife habitats. Their locations range from slips in the harbor to the Scanlon Reservoir, where power was produced more than 20 miles south of Duluth.

More than 100 years of unregulated development and dumping led to the pollution of the waterway. It is expected to be dropped from the list by 2030.