Obama to unveil $3.4 billion in “smart grid” grants today in Florida, including $200 million to FPL
by George Bennett
ARCADIA — Using a large Florida Power & Light solar energy facility outside this small town as a backdrop, President Obama today will announce $3.4 billion in federal grants to 100 different “smart grid” energy projects around the U.S.
The Obama administration says the grants, which are part of the $787 billion economic stimulus package approved this year, will create or save “tens of thousands” of jobs while making the nation’s electricity network more reliable and efficient and more compatible with renewable energy sources.
FPL is getting a $200 million grant for its program of technological upgrades that include installing more than 2.6 million “smart meters” in homes to provide more detailed consumption information to customers and enable them to reduce energy use and cut their bills.
Obama will tour FPL’s $152 million Next Generation Solar Energy Center, billed as the largest solar farm of its kind with 90,000 photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight to energy on 180 acres in DeSoto County. The solar center produces 25 megawatts of power, or enough to supply about 3,000 homes. By comparison, FPL’s gas- and oil-fired plant in Riviera Beach plant provides energy for 190,000 homes.
Carol Browner, a former head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection who is now an assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said FPL’s DeSoto County solar plant is an example of integrating renewable resources into the power grid.
During a Monday night briefing for reporters on the grants, Browner called the nation’s current power system “outdated” and “dilapidated.”
She noted that some have compared the development of the smart grid to the building of the Interstate highway system in the 1950s.
“That was about building so many miles,” Browner said. “This is about more than building miles of wires. This is about really making something function in a modern way so consumers can have better choices, we can manage the flow of electricity and we can bring renewables into the system.”
The recipients of the $3.4 billion in smart-grid grants are matching the federal money with a combined $4.7 million in private investment, Browner said. FPL is putting up $380 million for to match the $200 million federal grant.
“With these grants we’re going to unleash the vast potential of our economy to develop the infrastructure that will support the president’s goal of replacing demand for foreign fossil fuels with renewable energy produced here at home,” said Jared Bernstein, the chief economic policy adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
The administration cited an analysis by the Electric Power Research Institute that says smart grid technologies could reduce electricity use by more than 4 percent by 2030 and save more than $20 billion in energy costs.
The grants will be used to pay for 18 million smart meters, administration officials said. Other consumer-focused measures include installation of more than 1 million in-home displays, 170,000 smart thermostats, and 175,000 other load control devices to enable consumers to reduce their energy use.
For power companies and grid operators, the grants will pay for more than 200,000 “smart transformers,” 850 sensors and 700 automated substations that will provide more information and help prevent minor disturbances from cascading into major outages or blackouts.