Green

More utilities look to the DOE for smart grid financing

Both Connecticut’s United Illuminating and Illinois’ Commonwealth Edison have filed applications to receive stimulus funds from the U.S. Department of Energy to accelerate their smart grid plans. Applying for $37.5 million and $175 million, respectively, the utility companies are hoping to match funds they have already raised for project-based development.

United Illuminating, based in New Haven, Conn., says it would use the money to install communication infrastructure to more easily monitor and manage its electrical grid across the network. The project, which will require installing new equipment in residential and commercial areas, as well as at substations and power plants, is slated to cost $75 million total and take a little less than three years to complete. From the description, it’s likely that advanced smart meters will be a main component of the shift, allowing energy consumers to view relevant data that could encourage conservation. United Illuminating says the new technology will also allow it to view almost immediately when and why outages take place, saving it maintenance costs and improving service.

Commonwealth Edison, which covers northern Illinois and serves 70 percent of the state’s population, says it would use the matching funds to roll out 141,000 new smart meters in Chicago and 11 suburban areas surrounding the city, according to VentureWire. The utility says that this project would generate 3,800 new jobs in the local area and cut down the number of grid outages and disruptions a year by up to 400,000. As part of the smart meter deployment, the utility would also install monitors in people’s homes that would communicate energy use and costs and even allow them to control their consumption from remote locations. This is a pretty advanced strategy for a utility, most of which are focused primarily on nailing down smart meters, not the end-user interface. It is partnering with General Electric and Silver Spring Networks in this effort.

This is the second application ComEd has recently filed with the DOE. It is also asking for funds for research on the integration of solar power with storage systems and smart meter networks.

Also in the flock of utilities tapping the DOE for support is Consolidated Edison, located in New York. The utility did not say how much it is seeking — only that it will go toward a $375 million series of smart grid projects, including the roll out of 40,000 smart meters. It says $6 million will be funneled into a 300-customer test program for in-home energy displays and web portals based in Queens, N.Y., as well as integration between New York City’s grid and the 100-kilowatt solar system on the roof of LaGuardia Community College.

The Department of Energy has $3.9 billion set aside to match funds for smart grid initiatives nationwide. About $3.3 billion will go toward commercial-scale projects with the remaining $615 million earmarked for the development and demonstration of new technologies in the area. The DOE says it will start distributing grants in October at the absolute earliest (not counting a few pilot projects that have already benefited).

United Illuminating, ComEd and ConEd join several other major utilities already waiting around the trough, including Texas-based Oncor (looking for $317 million), Baltimore Gas & Electric (looking for $200 million), Maryland-based Pepco Holdings (looking for $254 million), Washington-based Avista (seeking $20 million) and Arizona-based Salt River Project (seeking an undisclosed amount).