The headquarters of the Eastern Iowa Light and Power Cooperative.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Wilton this morning to announce a $44 million loan issued to the Eastern Iowa Light and Power Cooperative.

Coop communications director Jim Williams says the loan will help pay for upgrades to nearly 350 miles of electric lines and several other projects over the next five years. “System improvements, line extensions and basic infrastructure,” Williams said.

Eastern Iowa Light and Power is one of the largest power coops in the state. “We serve a 12 county area and have approximately 19,000 members,” Williams said. The coop covers an area that runs from south of Maquoketa to north of Burlington and west of Iowa City. The $44 million loan announced today (Friday) is the largest electric distribution loan ever issued in Iowa by the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service.

The Eastern Iowa Light and Power Cooperative has taken advantage of the low-interest loan program for decades, according to Williams. “It’s obviously the largest (loan) we’ve ever received. Part of (the reason for) that is the work plan we drew up,” Williams said. “The fact that we’re obtaining this loan is not out of the ordinary. It’s a loan we’ve received in the past, it’s just the number is so much bigger this year.”

The Eastern Iowa Light and Power Cooperative was founded in 1935 and just recently moved into a new building in Wilton.) “We just moved in here six weeks ago,” Williams said. “We’d been in our previous location since 1949 and just basically outgrew the space.”

In addition to the headquarters in Wilton, the coop has service centers in DeWitt, Lone Tree and Wapello. According to the U.S.D.A., the agency has invested more than $1.1 billion in infrastructure development in Iowa since 2009, including $318.5 million for 30 electric projects, including building or improving 9,348 miles of electric line.

Nationally, the U.S.D.A. has improved and modernized rural electric infrastructure that serves over 8.6 million rural residents and businesses and funded for more than 158,500 miles of electric line since 2009.