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Smart Grid Money on the Table Today ... Billions' Worth

Today’s the day, folks! Later today, at a visit to the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia, Florida, President Obama will announce a $3.4 billion stimulus investment in 100 utility “smart grid” projects to benefit customers in 49 states. The air was rife with rumor and speculation yesterday, as the Department of Energy had earlier indicated an announcement wouldn’t be made until early November. But supposition became fact last night at 7 p.m. ET, in a DOE press briefing, with the words of the President’s assistant for energy and change, Carol Browner, who called today’s upcoming announcement “the largest ever investment in the smart grid.” DOE senior advisor Matt Rogers offered some tantalizing details, dangling three project awards – to Baltimore Gas & Electric for $200 million; San Diego Gas & Electric for $28.1 million, and Cobb Electric Membership Corporation for $16.9 million – like journalistic carrots, but leaving plenty of room for overnight speculation about the other 75 awards to be made today. We do know this: smart meter projects will be front and center in today’s announcements. Browner last night indicated that 18 million smart meters will be purchased under the program. Load management devices, in-home displays, thermostats, advanced transformers and automated substations will also be funded by today’s awards. But, said Rogers, the focus of the DOE’s choices wasn’t specifically on smart meter implementation. “I think we’re seeing the mix that the market needs,” he said, adding that the DOE choices responded more to the quality of the application than its particular technology focus.

The largest grant award is approximately $200 million, and there are “several of those,” according to Rogers. “We divided it up between large and small projects and companies, with 25 large projects and 75 small projects,” he said. (Small projects received grants of less than $10 million all the way up to $40 million, with larger projects receiving awards up to $200 million.)

Each of these grants will be matched or exceeded by private investment. In this case, the $3.4 billion the government is investing in the 100 projects will also see a total of $4.7 billion raised by the winning utilities, for a total of $8.1 billion in new money going into smart grid projects. 

But we also know this: Almost 400 projects were submitted for consideration, which means nearly 300 utility applications across the country will come up empty-handed today. How many of those projects will proceed despite the lack of DOE funding is anyone’s guess, at this point.


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