Stimulus' Smart Grid Money Is "A Lobbyist's Delight"

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With the bill passed, there’s a battle raging in Washington to grab some stimulus cash, reports Bloomberg.  The news org quotes Steve Ellis of Taxpayers For Common Sense who calls the land grab a “lobbyists delight.”

Competition will be keen. Cisco Systems Inc. and IBM Corp. have been enlisted to lobby for a smart-grid project in Austin, Texas. PG&E Corp. is touting its current effort to install 9.3 million high-tech utility meters in California.

Besides Department of Energy grants, cities and counties are seeking part of $1 billion in water-reclamation funds from the Interior Department. The Environmental Protection Agency got $900 million to clean up pollution. Schools have a shot at more than $34 billion for academic and building grants from the Department of Education.

Congress designed the economic recovery plan with little detail, a strategy that helped the bill avoid fights over funding for lawmakers’ pet projects, or earmarks.

Companies are battling to define what a smart grid will be exactly. The primary idea is that it lowers energy costs, prevents power outages and evenly distributes power from alternative sources like wind and solar. But none of that comes cheap or easy.

Development of new power systems comes with a lofty price. Minneapolis-based Xcel estimates that it will cost $100 million to connect 45,000 customers to its Boulder network. Austin’s Pecan Street Project, which intends to reach nine times as many customers, has no price tag yet. PG&E plans to spend $1.7 billion to install 9.3 million high-tech meters, and Pepco wants to install four times as many.

Because no one has built a smart grid yet, no one is sure how it will work or what technologies will win out. The stimulus package is giving companies a national stage on which to tout their ideas and get a leg up on the competition.

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