In the Community

How Grid United is Modernizing America’s Energy Grid and Strengthening Rural Communities in Montana. Is That Even Possible?

July 26, 2023

Here’s a potentially existential problem that few people ever think about: the United States doesn’t have a single, unified national power grid, and the three grids that we do have—East, West and Texas—are old and inefficient. As things now stand, we are vulnerable to freezes and heat waves and do not have the ability to transmit surplus power to where it is needed when there’s an emergency.

That’s where Grid United comes in. They’re building high-efficiency, high-powered transmission lines connecting the eastern and western grids. Think of it as the stitching together of America’s energy continental divide.

The rubber meets the road for this undertaking with the North Plains Connector (NPC), a 385-mile transmission line that connects the two grids between eastern Montana and western North Dakota and runs through three rural counties in Montana—Rosebud, Custer, and Fallon—with a combined population of less than 25,000.

Infrastructure projects can be a big change for rural communities. However, Grid United is dedicated to the well-being and vitality of the communities through which NPC is routed and has developed a grant program called the Community Investment Program (CIP), which was established at and is managed by the Montana Community Foundation (MCF).

The first grants from the CIP were awarded in mid-July and totaled $232,434 to support innovative projects in Rosebud, Custer, and Fallon Counties. The goal of the grants is to support work that enhances and strengthens the host communities. The organizations to which grants have been awarded include everything from helping a local Moose Lodge make ADA upgrades to provide a free community gathering space to helping an organization address urgent needs around the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) crisis to equipping a library with computers and mobile routers to bridge the digital divide.

“We are thrilled to have received one of the Community Investment Program’s grants,” said Yvonne Redding, Director of the Rosebud County Library, which received money for chrome books, laptops and hotspots. “These funds will allow us to provide Rosebud County residents with free access and training using the latest technology, which will only strengthen our community.”

Why is Grid United so focused on helping small towns? “Rural communities are the heartbeat of America, and a large part of our development approach is to work closely with local stakeholders to ensure our projects bolster the areas through which they’re routed,” said Michael Skelly, Chief Executive Officer of Grid United. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the first round Community Investment Program grant recipients, and we look forward to working with the Montana Community Foundation as well as Rosebud, Custer, and Fallon Counties to identify impactful initiatives for our future grant cycles.”

The CIP holds two grant cycles a year. The second grant cycle is now underway with an application deadline of November 1, 2023. Eligible applicants must be either a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or government entity. Individuals and for-profit organizations are ineligible; however, individuals and for-profit organizations may apply through a fiscal sponsor that is eligible. Grant requests are reviewed by Community Advisory Committees in Rosebud, Custer, and Fallon Counties.

Additional information on the CIP program, including the application, can be found here.

“We are honored that Grid United has partnered with us on this high impact community program” said Mary Rutherford, MCF’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “These funds help address important community needs.”

CIP grants will have a positive long-term impact. The Baker Chamber Recreations Department received funding for equipment that, according to Melissa Higbee, the Chambers Executive Director, will target youth development, character and well-being by keeping them active. “The Community Investment Program is helping rural communities, like Baker, create a better tomorrow.”

July 2023 Grantees

Rosebud County:

Custer County:

Fallon County: