Obama touts smart grid grants
By Michael A. Fletcher
ARCADIA, Fla. -- President Obama announced Tuesday $3.4 billion in grants for "smart meters," updated transformers, and other devices that he called the largest energy grid modernization investment in the nation's history.
The federal money, which was part of the $787 billion economic stimulus package, will pay for a broad range of technologies aimed at making the nation's power transmission system more efficient, reliable and adaptable to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
Speaking in front of some of the solar cells that make up nation's largest solar to electricity plant here, Obama said the investment is long overdue and he called it essential to ushering in a future of clean, renewable energy.
"There's something big happening in America in terms of creating a clean-energy economy," Obama said.
Obama said a modern grid could give consumers better control over their electricity usage and costs, and spur development of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
The current electrical grid still "runs on century-old technology," Obama said, adding that the upgrades will allow it to be "more secure and more reliable."
The grants have been awarded to 100 different utilities and other businesses, cities, which in turn have promised to spend another $4.7 billion in private money on the so-called "smart grid." Before making his remarks, Obama toured the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, which includes 180 acres of solar cells stretched across open fields. The plant is designed to generate enough power for about 3,000 homes, according to Florida Power & Light, the local electric company.
Obama's appearance here was part of the administration's effort to showcase the job-producing potential of the economic stimulus plan, which has come under harsh criticism from Republicans and other critics who call it ineffective as the nation's unemployment rate has climbed to 9.8 percent.
The administration is counting on the renewable energy sector to be a huge source of jobs in the future as the nation emerges from its deep recession. In his remarks, Obama said the electrical grid spending would create tens of thousands of new jobs for factory workers, installers, system designers and others.
In Delaware, Vice President Biden Tuesday celebrated plans to reopen a shuttered General Motors plant in Wilmington to produce long-range, plug-in, electric hybrid vehicles.
The Wilmington plant will be used by luxury automaker Fisker to produce the cars, a venture that is fueled by a $529 million Energy Department loan and is expected to create 2,000 factory jobs and as many as 3,000 support jobs.
"While some wanted to write off America's auto industry, we said no. We knew that we needed to do something different -- in Delaware and all across the nation," Biden said. "We understood a new chapter had to be written, a new chapter in which we strengthen American manufacturing by investing in innovation."
Administration officials envision plug-in hybrids and other electric vehicles becoming a key cog in the nation's developing smart grid. Smart meters will allow car owners to charge their vehicles when electricity demand and prices are lowest and also when power from intermittent renewable resources like wind and solar are more available. Ultimately, consumers might be able to sell an unneeded portion of the battery's charge back to the grid.
Posted at 1:36 PM ET on Oct 27, 2009
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