A Billion Dollars and Counting in Smart Meter Applications

The deadline for grant applications to the government smart grid investment program was last week, on Aug. 6. About two fifths of program funding is earmarked for small grants, from $300,000 to $20 million, and three fifths for grants of $20-200 million. Three energy companies applied for $200 million grants to deploy smart meters: CenterPoint Energy, Houston; Dominion Virgina Power, Richmond; and Florida Power & Light, Miami. Oncor, Dallas, filed for $317 million for smart meter deployment and network improvement, and Commonwealth Edison, Chicago, for $175 million for smart meters.

Announcement of the filings raises in this blogger's mind an issue analogous to what's called "additionality" in the context of carbon trading: are some of the energy companies obtaining government money to do things they already were intending to do anyway, relying wholly on their own resources? According to a Spectrum compilation published earlier this year, even before the adoption of the U.S. stimulus bill energy companies around the country had announced plans to spend billions of dollars installing smart meters. Companies in California and Texas alone had plans to spend $6 billion.

So will this part of the stimulus bill actually make anything truly new happen? So far, like the car battery grants program, it has been surprisingly uncontroversial.