A Free-Market Energy Blog

Smart Grid Passion–It’s On Your Dime (Part II)

By -- January 15, 2010

In Part I earlier this week, I asked critics for corrections to the surprisingly weak figures on avoided investment that smart grid advocates use to push their program. Having gotten none, let’s see where the figures take us.

First stop is the home page of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE). Its most prominent link is to their own The Smart Grid: An Introduction. Intended by its own admission for impressionable readers, it is plagued with misstatements, deceptive graphics, and unsourced assertions. Its official author is Eric Lightner, Director of the Federal Smart Grid Task Force. Lightner has not bothered responding to my requests for the sources of his footnote-free document, which was actually put together by a PR firm. Perhaps this is to be expected from a federal department that has a policy to push and must point us underlings toward official documents favoring the policy. But do we taxpayers have to really put up with this?

Then on the homepage is a link to the Galvin Electricity Initiative, the project of a retired Motorola executive who wants “Perfect Power,” nowadays pushed by the former head of the utility industry’s Electric Power Research Institute.

Then there is a blurb on Gridweek, the annual convention for smart griddies. Its 2009 “Platinum Sponsors” include the usual mix of meter makers, utilities, and … Didja guess the Department of Energy? Right. $50,000. Yours. DOE was equally partisan before the election — It was a “Key Partner” in Gridweek 2008, whose financial and in-kind contributions I can’t reconstruct.

Another click takes us to the GridWise Alliance, an umbrella group for everyone pushing the smart grid. The Alliance’s web site states its purpose:

To facilitate the effective collaboration among all stakeholders, and to promote, educate, and advocate for the adoption of innovative smart grid solutions that will achieve economic and environmental benefits for customers, communities and shareholders.

Sound like a registered lobbying organization? The answer is yes, but in fairness I haven’t been able to find any spending records. The group’s press releases have titles like “GridWise Alliance Lauds Smart Provisions in Waxman-Markey Bill” (Media contact is the Podesta Group). Their newsclips include “General Electric Pursues Pot of Government Stimulus Gold.” Does anyone know of another federal department whose web site contains direct links to lobbying groups whose members will prosper if the department’s preferred policies become law?

DOE hosts lots of other neat stuff. Its National Energy Technology Laboratory is a counterpart of the National Renewable Energy Lab, but dedicated to fossil fuel technologies. For unclear reasons NETL also has a bunch of pages devoted to The Modern Grid Strategy – Moving Toward the Smart Grid. Why?

[T]o accelerate the modernization of our nation’s electricity grid… MGS is fostering the development of [1] A common, national vision among grid stakeholders, [2] Education and outreach tools for core smart grid concepts, and [3] Business case analysis tools to facilitate implementation of smart grid technologies.

Closer to the ground [p. 11], NETL explains the importance of schmoozing with regulators and holding “consumer” workshops. Then [p. 14] we learn that utilities will back the idea if someone can just get regulators to eliminate or reduce the risk of recovering the smart grid’s costs. And finally the numbers, some from an NETL plan for West Virginia that’s worth its critical post. Even after assuming that the smart grid will engender massive benefits by facilitating electric vehicles, the numbers still come out iffy. NETL shrewdly sees that the way around this is to appeal to the communards:

The consumer value proposition, while positive, may not be compelling enough to motivate wide spread (sic) acceptance of the smart grid by individual residential consumers. The benefits that the smart grid could bring to society, however, might provide the necessary incentive to motivate us all [p. 17].

The composition of “us” is not further specified. Rules for radicals: Enlighten the bumpkins.

Two key ingredients are needed to instill in ….stakeholders the passion [?] to support and invest in a smart grid. … the first is collective understanding. [italics in original. The second is motivation.]… Clearly, communicating smart grid concepts to a critical mass of diverse stakeholders is difficult, but it is essential to gaining their alignment.

If a “critical mass” of stakeholders learns the truth about the smart grid–that it is just politics as usual–then it is prone to self-destruction, not unlike a critical mass of uranium. Scrutiny anyone?


  1. Alan Esworthy  

    Just what is “collective understanding?” Each individual understands or does not understand. And what is a “stakeholder” other than someone who has a project or goal and wants somebody else to pay for it?

    If the Smart Grid made economic sense then non-government owned electric utilities would be investing in it. As it stands now, it only makes financial sense in that government transferred tax money can be had regardless of the wisdom of such an allocation of resources.


  2. Mark Krebs  

    Electric utilities have been deferring investments in their grid for years. “Smart grids” collectively fund much needed grid upgrades through the federal tax base rather than through traditional/individual state-based rate-cases. Just another subsidy.


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