A federal loan will enable Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative to continue work on projects to upgrade or build new power lines and will benefit two communities in Aroostook and Washington counties.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Thursday funding for rural electric utility system improvements that will benefit residential and business customers in 23 states. The projects include more than $14.3 million to implement smart grid technology and nearly $11 million to improve electric service for Native Americans.

John Padalino, rural utilities service administrator for the Department of Agriculture, made the announcement on Vilsack’s behalf while addressing a regional meeting of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in San Antonio, Texas.

In Maine, Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative was selected to receive an Electric Guaranteed Loan for $5.9 million to build 71 miles of distribution line and make other system improvements in Maine’s rural areas.

“The USDA Rural Development funding invested in Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative will benefit rural homeowners, community facilities, and businesses in Washington, Penobscot and Aroostook counties by providing for expansion and enhancement of reliable electric service so critical to rural areas like these in Maine,” Virginia Manuel, Rural Development state director, said in a news release issued by the agency’s Bangor office.

The funds will be used to build new lines or upgrade and refurbish existing lines, explained Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative CEO Scott Hallowell.

The loan will benefit Ludlow in Aroostook County and Woodland in Washington County, Hallowell said Friday. The cooperative is upgrading distribution lines in Ludlow from single-phase to three-phase, and in Woodland, it is rebuilding distribution lines. They are two of the bigger long-term projects the cooperative is pursuing, said Hallowell.

The cooperative serves about 12,600 customers in a 3,000-square-mile area encompassing southern Aroostook and eastern Penobscot and Washington counties.

“Our partnership with USDA Rural Development is a valuable resource for supporting rural communities,” Hallowell said in a news release. “This loan will provide a source of funding which will support the continuing efforts of the cooperative to make cost effective system improvements and improve the quality of service for the members of the cooperative.”