Stimulus Funds Open Up for State Grid Projects, Training

As far as regional rivalries go, competition among U.S. states to lead the way on clean energy, efficiency and smart grid tech could be one of the more productive ones. Today the Obama administration gave a few points to states on the Western team, opting to use the annual meeting of the Western Governors’ Association in Park City, Utah, to announce the launch of several big stimulus programs designed to help states ready their electricity networks and transmission infrastructure for smart grid technology and renewable energy.

Applicants have between now and the end of the summer (as little as six weeks for one program) to put together requests for a total of more than $150 million in grants for analyzing transmission upgrades as well as hiring and training staff to work with smart grid technology, renewable energy feeding into the grid and cybersecurity.


The largest chunk announced today, $60 million, is for long-term planning for the electricity supply in each of the country’s three power networks, or interconnections: Western, Eastern and Texas. Another $20 million will go toward transmission and demand analysis by national lab researchers and the North American Reliability Corp. (NERC). In addition, $50 million is set to go to state utility regulators, in an estimated 51 different grants of between about $764,000 and $1.7 million. Applications are due by August 31.

As part of what’s called the State EA Initiative (short for “Enhancing State Government Energy Assurance Capabilities and Planning for Smart Grid Resiliancy”), the DOE has released $39.5 million for helping state governments hire or retrain staff to work on integrating new sources of energy (including renewables) and new smart grid technology into the transmission network, as well as addressing cybersecurity issues tied to the power grid. According to today’s release from the DOE, the funds are meant to help states boost their capacity for managing, monitoring and assessing their electrical systems, and the DOE expects to award as many as 56 grants of between about $205,000 and nearly $3.6 million. Applications are due July 30.

As applications roll in for these programs over the next two months, and as projects eventually get funded, energy developers, utility planners and regulators, environmental groups and policy makers will get down to the work of designing and managing a massive grid overhaul. Representatives from these groups in the states involved with the Western Governors Association have already begun that process — and issued their first report today on their progress. The WGA has been working for the past year with the U.S. Department of Energy to “develop a framework for consensus” among members of the Western Interconnection on how to develop and deliver clean energy from resource-rich areas to demand centers as part of the Western Renewable Energy Zones initiative.

Today’s Phase 1 Report essentially draws a roadmap for how the stakeholders plan to identify and evaluate promising renewable energy zones for investment in future phases of the initiative. As a first step, they have created a map of renewable energy hubs (above), displaying “the raw renewable resources” throughout the transmission area, excluding some for agreed upon environmental reasons, and showing where high-voltage transmission may be most cost-effective. In all, it offers a preliminary picture of where some of the stimulus funds released today may end up — and a reminder of the very early stage we’re in when it comes to deploying clean energy and smart grid tech for mass scale.