Now that Congress has directed $4.6 billion in stimulus spending toward developing a “smart” electric grid, it will be up to the states to get consumers on board and adjust rates to pay for the technology.
“The state role is crucial. We're the ones who know how ratepayers react. We're the ones that know the bumps in the road. We're the ones who know how what their tolerance level is for innovative things,” said Frederick Butler, president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.
The improvements, backers say, will change nearly every part of the nation's aging power transmission system – from how power plants distribute power to how consumers use it at home.
The idea behind a smart grid – parts of which are already being introduced in Los Angeles, Boulder, Colo. and Austin, Texas – is to install devices that, working together, can save energy by increasing efficiency, reduce blackouts and cut customers' bills.
Smart meters, for example, could instantly report to customers the cost of electricity at any moment. Penny-pinching consumers could then turn off the air conditioning on a steamy August afternoon or run their clothes dryers at night to save money. Some appliances even could be programmed to turn off automatically if power gets too expensive.
Behind the scenes, new tools will also be able to quickly divert electricity around highly congested power lines, reducing the risk of costly and inconvenient power outages. Jesse Berst, the managing director of GlobalSmartEnergy.com, told a panel of governors in Washington, D.C., in February that the August 2003 blackout in the Northeast left 50 million people in eight states and Canada without power and caused $6 billion in damages. And it happened in just 9 seconds.
Read the full report Smart Grid's Growth Now Depends on States on Stateline.org.