United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) State of Oklahoma Rural Development Director Kenneth Corn went across the Arkansas border to make a $50-million loan to Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative on Wednesday morning in Van Buren, Ark.
The lone will help Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative continue to improve electricity and broadband for its customers, some of whom live in LeFlore and Sequoyah counties.
"This is an opportunity that the (Biden) Administration has spent a lot of time trying to make sure we have an electric grid that is reliable and can provide electricity throughout the rural parts of our country," Corn said. "We had an opportunity (Wednesday morning) to make a presentation of a $50-million loan to Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative is taking in order to make improvements to their system that serves people in both Oklahoma and Arkansas. The loan is coming through USDA Rural Development."
All total, Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative's improvement project will cost an estimated $161 million by the time it's completed, but Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative has received $80 million of that amount through other grants, such as the $151.5 million USDA Rural Development Rural Utilities Services Grid Loan a couple of years ago.
"We received that ($151.5 M loan) two years ago," Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative Chief Executive Officer Al Simpson said. "It was under the same scope. This (Wednesday's $50-million loan) is just additional money for that smart grid."
Corn said that this loan will not only benefit Arkansas customers but customers in LeFlore and Sequoyah counties. There already is fiber lines in place in and near Spiro, Pocola and Monroe helping LeFlore County customers.
"All fiber has been deployed to our Oklahoma members," Simpson said. "It's in place and active. Anyone in Oklahoma who desires for high-speed Internet, it's available to them now."
"Their customers will be on a system that will be reliant and reliable for them," Corn said. "One of the key things the administration is looking towards is making sure the systems can meet the needs. There's a great demand on our systems. Most of these systems are in need of improvements, so the infusion of cash you see from the Biden Administration into these types of programs are to insure these systems can make the improvements so they can meet the needs of the customers. When they go flip the light switch on, it delivers what they expect."
Simpson said Wednesday's loan will help continue the Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative's project to improve electricity and broadband for its customers.
"We're going to continue to develop and deploy our smart grid," Simpson said. "We've been in development for several years now. Now, we can actually start putting it in place. The fiber is in place. Now, we need the equipment and all the smart devices, as we would call it. We're ready to start on that. This ($50-million loan) will help us purchase that equipment and get it online."
"One thing people don't always think about is the technology and how reliant industries have become on (technology)," USDA State of Arkansas Rural Development Director Jill Floyd said. "Broadband is really the only way to be able to do it. For them (USDA Rural Development) to cross state lines (to help out), this is a great example of how we can deploy technology and make it available to folks who really reed it — and keep folks in our rural communities."
Corn is quick to point out that it's taken many generation of presidential administrations to get the country vastly improved — beginning as far back as the 1940s.
"What's interesting is every generation has had its own big project," Corn said. "You had rural electrification under FDR (Franklin. D. Roosevelt). Then you had Dwight Eisenhower come through with the interstate highway system. Now, you have the Biden Administration doing broadband. It makes a real difference in these communities where we will be able to actually have industries grow, see doctors and not have to travel long distances and get an education right here in these communities. The co-ops like Arkansas Valley (Electric Cooperative) is really leading the way in insuring that our customers and citizens in the rural part of the states have the same type of equity and access that they have in the metro areas."
So far, about 20,000 Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative customers have signed up and have started receiving high-speed Internet, with about 2,000 more in the process of signing up for the special service.
For those customers interested in signing up for high-speed Internet service who have not done so can go online to one of two websites — www.arkansasvalleyelectriccooperative.com or www.waverc.com.