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In an effort to boost transparency and faith in the federal government, all of the Obama administration’s departments and agencies have released “Open Government Plans” detailing how they will better communicate with the public. The U.S. Department of Energy in particular had some interesting tidbits to share.
First and foremost, the department called attention to its Open Energy Information portal, located at OpenEI.org, to provide the resources people need to understand where energy is coming from and how much is being used. Much of the agency’s data will be indexed on this site, accessible to anyone. Built as a wiki, the site will accept edits and contributions from outside the department as well.
The same web site will host a catalog of best practices in alternative energy, energy efficiency, and other green initiatives, making them available for governments in other countries to freely borrow.
In addition to OpenEI.org, the Department of Energy is launching ScienceEducation.gov, a platform that will connect government agencies to help better educate the public about practical issues in science and math. This will go hand-in-hand with the Energy Information Administration’s Education and Literacy Initiative, helping regular consumers understand energy delivery and policy.
Many of the administration’s departments were not as specific in their Open Government Plans, stating only that they would introduce web-based resources and increase transparency in the future. This wouldn’t have cut it for the DOE, which is already facing a lot of scrutiny over how it’s distributing stimulus funds to green technology companies and utilities.
Despite congressional concerns that the stimulus funds are not being managed above board, the DOE seems to be keeping close watch on the recipients of that money. Cylindrical solar module maker Solyndra, one of the early winners of a DOE loan guarantee, totaling $535 million, recently got busted by government-hired auditors for racking up too much debt and losing too much money to make it to an IPO.
Energy Secretary Stephen Chu has also beefed up the department’s Energy Star program after evaluating its inefficiencies. The program has now stripped the Energy Star label off of refrigerators made by LG Electronics, and hasn’t balked at opposition. It seems to have consumers’ best interests at heart.
DOE transparency may also be vital to quell concerns over Smart Grid deployments across the country. The agency doled out $3.4 billion to utilities to help them build a cleaner, more efficient electrical grid. But there’s been a strong backlash. In Bakersfield, Calif., residents have filed a class action lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric and its supply chain — including Silver Spring Networks — accusing the utility of hiking its energy rates after installing smart meters. Opposition has been cropping up elsewhere, too, on the eve of mass smart meter roll outs.
If the Department of Energy wants to see the grid speedily revamped, it will need to launch massive consumer education campaigns touting the merits of the Smart Grid. But launching the interactive OpenEI.org seems like a solid start. As a last kicker on the side of transparency, the release announcing the Open Government Plan, also linked to Secretary Chu’s Facebook page.
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