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Douglas Electric using federal loan to improve facilities

ARMOUR — A $1.4 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to help jump-start the Douglas Electric Cooperative's upgrades to its Armour facilities.

The electrical co-op will move its operations to a central site, located 1 mile north of Armour, said Douglas Electric Cooperative Manager and Line Superintendent Jay Spaans.

"Right now, we're at about four different sites around town," Spaans said.

The loan money is made available through the USDA's Electric Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee program. Douglas Electric Cooperative will build a new office, shop, maintenance building and pole yard on the new grounds. Some dirt work will start on the project next month and the goal is for the project to be finished by spring 2019, Spaans said.

"It will keep us on top of our game, I think," Spaans said. "We want to stay competitive and I think it should help us be as reliable as possible. I think these upgrades will help with that."

The company has 723 residential customers and 74 commercial customers with more than 500 miles of power line in five counties — Aurora, Charles Mix, Davison, Douglas and Hutchinson. The co-op says it has 616 members, was founded in 1946 and is currently headquartered at 400 N. Main St. in Armour.

In the USDA's project description and explanation of the need for the loan, the department notes that Aurora, Charles Mix, Douglas and Hutchinson are "outmigration counties," in which the counties are seeing residents move out of the area to elsewhere in South Dakota or out of the state.

The loans from the USDA are geared toward system improvements, generation, transmission and distribution upgrades in communities with 10,000 or fewer residents. In all, $309 million is being invested in 16 projects in 12 states.

The USDA also provided a $6 million loan for FEM Electric Association in Ipswich — which serves Faulk, Edmunds and McPherson counties — to build 58 miles of line and improve 77 more miles, along with more than $350,000 in smart grid updates.