Obama's Smart (Grid): Where's Harper?

The big news south of the border today is President Obama's announcement of a new federal program to encourage the greening of the US energy grid.

In a speech in Florida at what is now the nation's largest and newest Solar PV power plant, the President promised "100 grants totaling $3.4 billion, grants that will go to private companies, utilities, cities and other partners who have applied with plans to install smart grid technologies in their area."

The Washington Post is running a transcript of the speech, and I've posted a few excerpts below. It's a great feeling to see the President speaking the praises of a smarter grid. (I'd swear he'd read some of my previous entries...LOL.)

Here in Canada, the main leader in smart grid so far has been the Province of Ontario, which has been attracting American attention for its rapid roll out of smart meters and green energy incentives. Federally though, we are still holding our breath.

Two years after delivering a speech calling for Canada to become a "green energy superpower" the prime minster has done little to get us there. All we have got to show for it is a transmission line in Northern BC whose green credentials are less than stunning (see the Globe's Mark Hume's balanced look at the project) and Harper's opposition to the US climate change bill. Great stuff!

In a related US piece , American Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that "When the gun sounded on the clean energy race, the United States stumbled. But I remain confident that we can make up the ground." If the U.S. stumbled, Canada's federal government hasn't even shown up. Besides Ontario, we've got other great leaders: cities like Vancouver and Toronto, alternative energy companies like AAER or Canadian Hydro and private companies like ZENN electric cars, to name a few. It's time to give them the same support that their peers south of the border are getting.

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OBAMA: [To] realize the full potential of this plant and others like it, we've got to do more than just add extra solar megawatts to our electrical grid. That's because this grid, which is made up of everything from power lines to generators to the meters in your home, 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.
To offer one analogy, just imagine what transportation was like in this country back in the 1920s, 1930s, before the Interstate Highway System was built. It was a tangled maze of poorly maintained back roads that were rarely the fastest or the most efficient way to get from point A to point B.

Fortunately, President Eisenhower made an investment that revolutionized the way we travel; an investment that made our lives easier and our economy grow.

Now it's time to make the same kind of investment in the way our energy travels, to build a clean energy superhighway that can take the renewable power generated in places like De Soto and deliver it directly to the American people in the most affordable and efficient way possible.
Such an investment won't just create new pathways for energy.

It's expected to creates tens of thousands of new jobs all across America, in areas ranging from manufacturing and construction to I.T. and the installation of new equipment in homes and in businesses.

It's expected to save consumers more than $20 billion over the next decade on their utility bills. And I know nobody minds seeing their utilities bill cut.
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So that's why today I'm pleased to announce that, under the Recovery Act, we are making the largest-ever investment in a smarter, stronger and more secure electric grid.

This investment will come in the form of 100 grants totaling $3.4 billion, grants that will go to private companies, utilities, cities and other partners who have applied with plans to install smart grid technologies in their area.

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Some of the projects involve modernizing old, inefficient transmission lines that just waste too much energy. And to speed that process along, nine federal agencies have signed an agreement that will help break down the bureaucratic barriers that currently make it slow and costly to build new transmission lines on federal lands.

But most of the projects that are receiving grants involve the installation of what are known as smart meters, devices that will have a direct benefit for consumers who want to save money on their electrical bills.

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So we're on the cusp of this new energy future. And in fact, a lot of it's already taken place. Even as I'm here today, Vice President Biden's in Delaware announcing the reopening of a once- shuttered G.M. factory that will soon put people back to work building plug-in electric hybrid vehicles.

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So at this moment, there's something big happening in America when it comes to creating a clean energy economy, but getting there will take a few more days like this one and more projects like this one.

And I've often said that the creation of such an economy is going to require nothing less than the sustained effort of an entire nation; an all-hands-on-deck approach, similar to the mobilization that preceded World War II or the Apollo Project.
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There are those who are also going to suggest that moving toward a clean energy future is going to somehow harm the economy or lead to fewer jobs. And they're going to argue that we should do nothing, stand pat, do less or delay action yet again.

I just want to point out, we've heard such arguments before. We've engaged in this same type of debate a lot of times through our history. People don't like change, and they get nervous about it.
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It's a debate between looking backwards and looking forward, between those who are ready to seize the future and those who are afraid of the future.

And we know which side the United States of America has always come down on. We know that we've always been a people who were unafraid to reach for that more promising future. We know that the promise of places like DeSoto and projects like the creation of a modern electricity grid mean a continuation of that long march of progress in this country.

And we refuse to believe that our politics are too broken to make the energy future we dream of a reality.

Comments

4 Responses to "Obama's Smart (Grid): Where's Harper?"

ClaudeB said... 27 October 2009 at 19:38

There are differences between the US and Canadian situations with regards to to grid. On the northern side of the border, infrastructure is generally more robust and congestion is not as much a factor than it is in the US, where investment in the transmission grid have been minimal for the last two decades.

That's why I think comparisons between Canada and the US on this particular issue are not fair.

In my neck of the wood, the work on a smarter grid is not flashy but it proceeds at a brisk pace, without federal interference, I might add.

Hydro-Qu├ębec is busy spending $1 billion a year to implement the systems and automations required to minimize losses and connect new renewable power sources. Without subsidies. A smart grid is just part of the normal course of business here.

For instance, the CATVAR project will help reduce distribution line losses by 2 TWh yearly, by adding reactive power to distribution lines across the province. Certainly not as flashy as replacing power meters by interactive ones, but it does the job, right?

Alex Aylett said... 27 October 2009 at 21:12

Hi Claude. What caught my attention wasn't just that the US government is throwing money around, it was who it was throwing money too.

While you might be right about the state of the US grid, I think the point here is another one.

While big players, like Hydro Quebec, have the ressources to implement projects like CATVAR, smaller companies and cities don't. They would really benefit from some extra federal support.

Obama's inclusion of "private companies, cities and other partners" as well as big utilities as elegible for these grants is significant.

So far, Canada is missing both that type of broad incentive and any kind of real federal leadership to encourage companies or municipalities to move in that direction.

Maybe, as you point out, we don't need that kind of federal interference. But I'd say that we would be better off with a federal government that was working with -- instead of against -- what some provinces and cities have begun to do on their own.

Alex Aylett said... 27 October 2009 at 21:31

Mira Shenker, on the ReNew Canada blog just put up an intersting post on the difficulty that cities are having at raising funds for infrastructure projects.

This is exactly the area where some federal support would come in handy.

http://renewcanada.net/2009/fishing-for-funding-in-shallow-equity-pools/

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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

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