Obama to Announce Plan to Modernize Nation's Electric Power System
Oct 26, 2009 - Chicago Tribune
President Barack Obama and administration officials on Tuesday will announce $3.4 billion in spending projects to modernize the nation's electric power system.
Obama will detail the so-called "smart grid" funding at a solar plant in Arcadia, Fla. White House officials say the projects will create tens of thousands of jobs in the "near term" and lay the groundwork for changing how Americans use and pay for energy.
The spending is aimed at improving the efficiency and reliability of the U.S. power supply and to help create markets for wind and solar power, officials said. They also said it would create "smart meters" to help consumers use electricity when demand is low and when rates are cheaper _ for example, by running dishwashers and other energy-thirsty appliances in the middle of the night.
The money well be released in the form of grants to applicants, and it must be matched dollar-for-dollar by private funding.
The clean-energy push comes as the administration is still working to respond to a national unemployment rate that is hovering near double digits.
On Tuesday, those efforts will include Vice President Joe Biden announcing the re-opening of a former General Motors plant in Delaware to produce more efficient cars. Several Cabinet secretaries will testify before a Senate panel in support of sweeping legislation to curb global warming emissions and encourage renewable energy development.
The announcements also come in the wake of comments last week by a key Obama economic adviser, Christine Romer, who said the economic gains from the administration's signature $787 billion stimulus plan had probably peaked.
Speaking at a congressional hearing, Romer, who leads the president's Council of Economic Advisers, said that by the middle of next year, the stimulus will "likely be contributing little to further growth."
For months, critics have maintained that the stimulus lacked punch and had failed to deliver the promised jolt to the economy. Hoping to ease such concerns, Obama has counseled patience, saying in July that the stimulus "was designed to work over two years."
The stimulus included some $80 billion in "clean energy" spending, including money to improve the energy efficiency of public buildings and to research new biofuels. Administration officials have not yet quantified how many jobs that money has created.
Tuesday's announcement will be the biggest clean energy chunk yet. It is targeted at building the "smart grid" _ a phrase that includes efforts to make the nation's power delivery system less prone to blackouts, more in tune with consumer demand and more integrated with renewable energy.
A smarter grid, for example, might help hook wind farms in North Dakota with power consumers in Chicago and synchronize those consumers' energy use to match the times when the wind blows strongest.
"We have an electrical grid system that hasn't been always capable of moving cleanly produced electricity in different parts of the country to other parts of the country that most need it," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One.
"Places with either solar or wind aren't always the most populous areas of the country, and you've got to find a vehicle that's technologically capable of moving clean power to places where the demand is greatest," he said.
Advocates for smart grid spending welcomed the planned Obama announcement.
"It's a jump start," said Katherine Hamilton, president of the GridWise Alliance, a public-private partnership devoted to grid modernization. She said the projects supported by the stimulus funds will show industry and utility regulators that "this is going to work." Federal and state regulators still must resolve issues of where to site power lines and how to price the energy that travels along them, among other regulatory challenges, said Deborah Wince-Smith, president of the Council on Competitiveness, a group that has urged the administration to make the smart grid a centerpiece of its clean energy efforts.
(Staff writer Peter Nicholas contributed to this report.)