Florida ‘smart’ power gets a jolt with U.S. funds
PRESIDENT IN FLORIDA
The Obama administration has awarded Florida Power & Light a $200 million grant to put smart meters in customers’ homes and improve the reliability of the grid.
BY JOHN DORSCHNER
Florida Power & Light is getting $200 million in federal stimulus money to provide more than half its customers with “smart meters” over the next two years to help them lower their electric bills, the Obama administration announced Tuesday.
The grant is one of 100, totaling $3.4 billion, that the federal government is making in the “largest-ever investment in a smarter, stronger, and more secure electric grid,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday after touring a new FPL solar facility in Arcadia.
Obama praised FPL for building the world’s largest photovoltaic generation plant, saying it would save 575,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years, while noting that the system-wide grid needs to be improved because it “still runs on century-old technology. It wastes too much energy, it costs us too much money, and it’s too susceptible to outages and blackouts.”
Smart meters, which were introduced in Broward in a 2007 pilot program, have wireless chips sending information that customers can access through an in-home energy panel, or over the Internet or by talking to an FPL service rep.
That way, customers can see day-by-day and hour-by-hour how they use electricity. By playing around with the settings of water heaters and air conditioners, customers can see over time how to lower their electric bills.
Reducing power usage means less production of the greenhouse gases that experts say cause global warming. Such green endeavors have been an Obama priority in allocating dollars in the Recovery Act.
The stimulus money, which is meant to be spent over the next two years, will be matched by $378.3 million from FPL to give meters to 2.6 million customers, the utility said. Altogether, FPL plans to install smart meters for all 4.5 million of its customers over the next few years. The total cost will be $800 million, with FPL bearing the remainder of the costs.
Some of the stimulus money will go to “build a more intelligent network that can detect potential problems and automatically reconfigure the grid to minimize outages,” according to an FPL fact sheet.
Earlier this month, the utility promised federal regulators to improve the operation of its grid after paying a $25 million penality because a simple blunder by a field worker caused a massive blackout for almost one million customers.
FPL estimated that during the next two years, the project, Energy Smart Florida, will create more than 6,000 jobs — counting directly those who install the meters and reconfigure the grid and indirectly those that build the equipment. Some national corporations, including General Electric, have become active players in this field.
FPL’s original proposal had focused on blanketing Miami-Dade County with a smart grid. In April, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz hosted a conference on the new technology that included the chief executives of General Electric and Cisco Systems. In its later application for stimulus dollars, FPL expanded its proposal statewide.
On Tuesday, Mayor Diaz called the $200 million grant “extremely exciting. I’m bursting at the seams.”
Nationwide, the 100 projects were selected from 400 proposals, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The largest grants were $200 million — given to FPL and several other companies. Private investments of $4.7 billion are expected to match the federal stimulus payments.
Altogether, the Obama administration expects the smart grid conversion to add “tends of thousands of jobs.”
The recently finished FPL facility that Obama toured is at present the largest photovoltaic electricity facility in the country — using a process in which panels directly convert the sun’s power into electricity.
Introducing Obama, FPL Group Chief Executive Lew Hay said, “Our Florida solar projects are creating good construction jobs when they’re needed most, and in the years ahead they’ll create clean energy when its needed most. We’re ready to build more solar in Florida, and with the right public policy support, we will.”
Such support involves the utility’s customers paying for renewable energy construction, not the utility’s shareholders. Action by the Florida Legislature allowed FPL to recover from customers all costs for the Arcadia solar facility as well as two others under construction.
In April, FPL made headlines when the utility and a Central Florida developer announced plans to build a 19,500-home community, called Babcock Ranch — “the first city on earth powered by zero-emission solar energy.”
However, the Legislature rejected an FPL proposal that its customers bear all the costs. The Babcock solar project has been put on hold.
This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.