The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has agreed to provide $3.6bn in loans for 82 projects in 31 states to increase reliability of rural electric utility systems.

The loans will be used either for laying and/ or improving around 12,500 miles (20116km) of transmission and distribution lines.

Out of the total amount, about $216m will set aside for smart grid technologies, $35m will be invested on renewable energy, $26m on environmental improvements and about $1.8m in energy efficiency.

These loans will be forwarded through The Electric Program of the Rural Utilities Service, a successor to Rural Electrification Administration.

Until now, the USDA has invested about $38bn in electric loans and more than $1bn for smart grid technologies since 2009 and has been instrumental in building more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution.

By deploying smart grid technologies, the reliability of electric power can be increased, thus helping utilities to manage the grid better and improve operational efficiencies.

Some of the smart grid technologies in use today include metering, substation automation, computer applications, two-way communications, geospatial information systems and other improvements.

USDA noted that eighty years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt had signed a law which charged the USDA to provide electric power to rural America.

US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said: "For 80 years, rural electric utilities have provided reliable and affordable electricity to help rural communities increase productivity and build stronger economies.

"These loans will help them continue to do that. The utilities and cooperatives will use some of the money to finance energy efficiency projects, renewable fuel systems and smart grid technologies to increase our energy independence and improve rural electric infrastructure."