Big Energy hand-outs

Rabbit in the headlights
Energy Secretary Steven Chu delivered a vital speech last night to increase his offer of stimulus bill funding for large energy projects, mainly building new electricity towers. The annual meeting of the privately-owned electric utilities had been disappointed by initial offers from the DoE last month of $20m per project. Chu told them last night that they will get now get $200m per project out of a total pot of $3.9b. By contrast each State is reeiving an average of $20m for energy conservation measures and renewables.The Utilities expect their handouts to total $4 billions for  development of the so-called smart-grid — power network upgrades that were formerly financed by investors and paid for by consumers. The sums being made available to micr0-grids or local power networks are paltry by comparison – $204m spread out across 10 states was announced today – mainly for energy conservation measures but also to fund new renewable installation .

Asked by journalists about people objecting to high-voltage power lines being built near their homes as part of a smart grid, Chu said he would appeal to U.S. national interests.

“People didn’t like interstate highways in their backyard,” he said. “But it was done for the sake of national security, and I would say even more so we will need a transmission distribution system for our national security.”
Of the approximately $3.9 billion for smart-grid funding, $3.3 billion is for building new towers where the government will fund up to 50% of the effort. There is also another $615 million to help build electricity storage, monitoring and technology projects. DOE last week increased the cap for those projects from $40 million to $100 million.  In addition Chu confirmed the Futuregen project to capture and store greenhouse-gas emissions from a coal-fired power plant will receive $1.1b.

Chu’s speech is part of a wider Obama administration push to raise its profile on energy issues.  On Tuesday the Prez urged the US House of Representatives to pass a broad energy and climate change bill that could reach the House floor as early as Friday.

In remarks delivered at a White House news conference, Obama said the House this week “is moving ahead on historic legislation that will transform the way we produce and use energy in America. It is legislation that will finally spark a clean energy transformation that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and confront the carbon pollution that threatens our planet.”

The president said the measure “will create a set of incentives that will spur the development of new sources of energy, including wind, solar, and geothermal power. It will also spur new energy savings, like efficient windows and other materials that reduce heating costs in the winter and cooling costs in the summer.”

The incentives “will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy. And that will lead to the development of new technologies that lead to new industries that could create millions of new jobs in America–jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.”

In addition, Obama said the bill, which would create a system for trading carbon emission allowances, will be “paid for by the polluters who currently emit the dangerous carbon emissions that contaminate the water we drink and pollute the air we breathe. It also provides assistance to businesses and communities as they make the gradual transition to clean energy technologies.”

“We all know why this is so important. The nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy. That is what this legislation seeks to achieve– it is a bill that will open the door to a better future for this nation. And that is why I urge members of the House to come together and pass it,” Obama said.

Obama’s comments on energy during a high-profile news conference cames as the White House was dispatching Cabinet members to events across the country to highlight the administratin’s commitment to clean energy amid growing talk in Washington that the president had failed lately to throw his weight behind efforts to move the energy and climate bill through the House.

“It’s time for the president to weigh in on this,” Representative G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat and member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said Monday at a Washington conference sponsored by Newsweek magazine and Shell.

“He needs to do a better job explaining that the energy legislation will create jobs,” the congressman added.

A number of the events scheduled by the White House this week will center on job creation, including a “town hall” meeting Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is scheduled to host Wednesday at a solar-power manufacturing plant in Michigan, while Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will hold a news conference on green jobs at a solar plant in Memphis.

Obama’s remarks on Tuesday came shortly after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, appearing with New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, announced that the administration was issuing the first-ever exploratory leases for wind-energy production on the federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf.

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