Governor, congressional delegation claim grid success

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By Roger Snodgrass

The old saying that success has many fathers was illustrated Monday, as Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced a decision to establish a preliminary set of standards for the so-called “smart grid.” Chu also increased the maximum award available under two funding projects for the grid.

In response, Gov. Richardson, the state’s two U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, all Democrats, sent out press releases associating the results with their efforts.

The Associated Press reported that the two cabinet secretaries met with 70 business executives and state regulators at the White House on Monday to discuss the smart grid concept, which aims to bring electricity transmission into the digital age. They announced 16 steps to create uniform electricity standards for the grid.

A Smart Grid, according to Chu’s announcement would replace the current, outdated system and employ real-time, two-way communication technologies to allow users to connect directly with power suppliers.

“The Smart Grid is an urgent national priority that requires all levels of government as well as industry to cooperate,” Chu said in the statement.

“I’m pleased that industry leaders stepped forward today and are working with us to get consensus.  We still have much to do, but the ultimate result will be a much more efficient, flexible power grid and the opportunity to dramatically increase our use of renewable energy.”

Chu’s announcement stated that he had arrived at a decision to make $10 million in Recovery Act funds available to the National Institute of Standards and Technology to support the development of interoperability standards, after meeting with industry leaders at the White House.

Udall and Lujan released a joint letter they had sent “earlier this month,” that called on Chu to increase the funding limits. Richardson said he had expressed his concerns directly to President Obama when the two spoke in Albuquerque last week.

Earlier, he reported his efforts to call attention to the issue by writing to Chu. He said he spoke with Vice President Biden urging both to intervene to increase the size of potential projects.

The new DOE guidelines expand the amount of grant funding possible for individual Smart Grid Investment Grants from $20 million to $200 million, and increases the amount available for Smart Grid Demonstration Projects from $40 million to $100 million.

Bingaman said he pressed the DOE to increase the cap on “smart grid” grants offered through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, because “the proposed levels were too low to help advance technology in a meaningful and timely fashion.”

Further, Bingaman noted that he had highlighted the need to develop standards that manufacturers could adhere to, ensuring that their technologies can be integrated to make a "smart system," and urged the accelerated development of standards at an Energy Committee hearing in March,

While applauding the decision, Richardson’s statement expressed concerns about the requirement that calls for a 50 percent match for project funding under these grants, which would be onerous “even in the best of times.”

“This will unfairly disqualify states like New Mexico that have developed proposals that demonstrate true potential, collaboration, and integration,” he said.

The Udall-Lujan letter to Chu had requested the same relief.

“DOE should reduce the proposed 50 percent cost-share requirement for large scale projects under the Smart Grid Investment Grant Program and the Smart Grid Demonstrations,” they wrote to Chu earlier this month.

Chu will testify before a Senate appropriations subcommittee today on the Obama Administration’s FY 2010 Budget request for the Department of Energy.