Candidates Avoid Smart Grid, Blast Green Energy Initiatives

Editor in chief TERESA HANSEN

The next presidential election is still one year away, but given the heated debates among Republican candidates, their unified criticism of President Barack Obama and his administration and vice versa, you might think the election is just around the corner.

The fragile economy, job creation, tax reform and “Obamacare” are the most popular campaign topics, with green energy initiatives and green jobs occasionally receiving some, mostly negative, attention.

In a recent speech on creating jobs, Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry singled out renewable energy industries, like wind farms, as a target for ending incentives. Perry said the green energy initiative and stricter environmental regulations are costing the country jobs. Most Republican candidates have said Obama’s spending on a green energy economy has wasted Americans’ tax dollars and hasn’t resulted in the economic benefits the president promised. Most Republicans and some Democrats argue that no one knows how many green jobs have been created, or even what defines a green job.

In 2009 when Obama introduced Smart Grid Investment Grants (SGIG), which were part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), they were closely tied to his green energy initiatives. One of the main purposes of creating a smart, 21st-century electric grid was to allow renewable energy resources to be connected to the grid without negatively impacting grid system reliability and operation, Obama said. The close connection among renewable energy, green jobs and smart grid has caused me to worry that tax dollars spent on smart grid might be questioned and criticized, too. So far they haven’t. I’ve heard little debate on the merits of smart grid investment.

In her article “ARRA Paves Smart Grid Path With Cash” beginning on Page 18, Senior Editor Kathleen Davis discusses utilities’ progress on SGIG-funded projects. Although many projects receiving SGIG funding were planned before ARRA was enacted, the funding for the utilities discussed in the article and many others allowed them to expand their projects, implement them sooner or both.

The article makes it clear that the nearly $1.5 billion worth of SGIG funding paid to utilities by the U.S. Department of Energy to date has impacted many smart grid projects positively. These projects include distribution system improvements, smart meter rollouts, cybersecurity enhancements, transmission system planning and more. In addition, unlike green jobs, utility recipients can show what the funding created and how it benefits them and their consumers.

Green energy initiatives and incentives have become a hot button for political debate and criticism. I’m sorry that a broad and far-reaching U.S. energy policy, which is so important, hasn’t. I’m thankful, however, that the politicians vying for the top job have kept smart grid incentives and investment out of the green energy debate. I’m not sure if it’s because they think smart grid investment is good for the country and the economy or smart grid isn’t on their radar screens. Whatever the reason, it’s good for now.

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