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Smart Grid Stimulus Funds Finally Trickling In

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There was an almost five month gap between when the Department of Energy announced the winners of the smart grid stimulus grants at the end of October and when the first funds started to trickle in earlier this month. But now it looks like the logjam has finally been broken, and this morning one of the largest grants — a $200 million grant for utility CenterPoint Energy — has been finalized.

Utilities were starting to get worried about how long it was taking to see any of the funds. At the Wall Street Journal’s Eco:nomics conference earlier this month, the CEO of Florida power company FPL Group, Lewis Hay III, expressed his concern that his company had not seen “a dime” of the $200 million smart grid stimulus grant it had been awarded.

One of the reasons for the delay was a lack of clarity around whether the smart grid stimulus awards were going to be treated as taxable income. But two weeks ago that issue was resolved when the DOE and the IRS announced that the IRS will provide a “safe harbor” for utilities that are in line for a piece of the billions in stimulus backing for smart grid projects.

That in turn has seemed to open up the gates for the DOE to start sending out contracts for stimulus grants like the first one it gave to Glendale Water & Power in the first week of March (because Glendale is a city it wasn’t subject to the tax issue). Katherine Hamilton, president of industry group GridWise Alliance, told us that most of the contracts for the smart grid stimulus package could be in utilities’ hands by the end of this month.

Of course, getting contracts in the hands of utility project managers is just the first of many steps to getting dollars into the hands of vendors and workers, but it’s a good start. For a complete list of smart grid stimulus fund winners and losers see here.

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