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Breaking Down the "Energy" Projects in the Stimulus

Most of the projects in the the President's $900 billion stimulus package are the kind of public works the government has executed for decades: trains, bridges, and so on. But the "Energy" projects that will be eligible for funding are full of new technologies that have never before been implemented on a large scale. What exactly are they?

According to the House Committee on Appropriations, the House version of the bill reserves "energy" monies for the following project categories.

  • $11 billion for R&D devoted to the Smart Grid Investment Program and various energy pilot projects
  • $8 billion for loans for renewable energy plants
  • $6.9 billion for loans to state and local governments, to help them make general "investments" that will increase their energy efficiency
  • $8.7 billion to weatherize HUD-sponsored and moderate income housing
  • $2 billion in loans and grants for battery technology
  • $1.5 billion for increasing the efficiency of schools and colleges
  • $300 million in rebates for consumers who buy Energy Star-rated appliances
  • $1 billion to buy alternative fuel cars for federal, state and local government
  • $200 million in grants towards electric vehicle research
  • $2.4 billion for carbon-capture technology to cleanse fossil fuel energy
  • $350 for the Department of Defense to figure out how to power bases and weapons with renewable energy
  • $500 million for energy-efficient manufacturing projects
  • $300 for reducing diesel emissions.

You can read the House's summary of the bill here.

We know a little bit about the so-called "smart grid" that President Obama is advocating. The smart grid is an energy transmission system that can handle variable energy levels, and can pull energy from homes and businesses as easily as it can send energy there. That makes inconsistent generators like wind turbines and solar panels feasible energy sources, and opens the possibility for hybrid cars and houses to sell back some of their energy to the utility company.

But the details of the other projects are discussed largely in catch phrases and metonyms. To figure out where this money will actually go, you have to dig into the pages of the Main Street Economic Recovery Report, which is a list of potential stimulus projects compiled by the US Conference of Mayors. As I explained in an earlier post, the mayors of America's cities will be the ones sending stimulus ideas to the state-level government, who, in turn, will apply for funding from the Department of Commerce once the stimulus—aka the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—is signed into law at the end of this week.

But if you want a more Web 2.0 way to explore the mayors' project suggestions, you can check out Stimulus Watch, which has ported the mayors' list, and allows people to vote and comment on the projects.

The mayors' report lists over 1300 "energy" and related project ideas in all 50 states. This is the meat and potatoes of the stimulus package, right here; each idea is summarized with job-creation predictions and cost estimates. It's also the most exciting part of the act, because many of these suggested projects will, if enacted, bring thousands of talked-about "green" ideas to immediate popular use.

Here are some examples. There are pages and pages of these; I've chosen interesting projects to highlight.

  • Bessemer, AL: Auto-Meter reading system for City wide electrical system use. $5,800,000.00 - 70 jobs.
  • Fountain Valley, CA: Hybrid HVAC/Night Shift system with solar powered air handlers. $800,000.00 - 5 jobs.
  • Hayward, CA: LED Street Lights. Replace street lights with LEDs Citywide. $8,000,000.00 - 150 jobs.
  • Glendora, CA: Solar power panel funding to assist small business owners with the installation costs. $975,000.00 - 45 jobs.
  • North Miami, FL: Establish a "Change a light bulb" program for all income eligible households and change out all incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. $2,000,000.00 - 2 jobs.
  • Plantation, FL: Methane Gas Conversion-Methane gas is a by-product from treating wastewater. The gas would be cleaned, scrubbed, and compressed to be used as electric power to operate equipment in the wastewater plant. $1,500,000.00 - 10 jobs.
  • Des Moines, IA: Citywide interconnection of all traffic lights. $500,000.00 - 25 jobs.
  • Orofino, ID: Clearwater County Woody Biomass Cogeneration Facility. $30,000,000.00 - 200 jobs.
  • Lake Havasu City, AZ: City Hall Retrofitting Parking Structures w/Solar Power Regeneration. $7,280,000.00 - 130 jobs.
  • Peoria, AZ: Install alternative fueling station and fleet shop upgrades (natural gas or hydrogen). $2,500,000.00 - 11 jobs.
  • Cerritos, CA: "Go Green" Supplemental Power System for Cerritos Library: installation of micro-turbine generators in accordance with California state requirements, to prevent blackouts and reduce adverse environmental impacts. $360,000.00 - 5 jobs.
  • Hopkinsville, KY: Automated Electric Information System. Currently, electric customers use more electricity than necessary due to lack of information about the amount of electricity being used. $3,900,000.00 - 4 jobs.

The fate of these projects rests largely on which version of the bill—House or Senate—most closely resembles the version that will be signed into law. As Bloomberg has noted, the House version has allotted much more spending for wind, solar, and efficient lighting, while the Senate version is weighted towards projects that encourage clean coal, nuclear energy, and electric cars.

The House version also includes a crucial grants for renewable energy companies that would equal a whopping 30% of their operating costs. Without that provision, wind and solar companies are predicted to move overseas en masse. The Senate version has tax breaks for hybrid car buyers and manufacturers, and loan guarantees that can be used in building nuclear power plants.

House and Senate leaders are working to resolve these discrepancies this week, while slimming down the total size of the bill to under $900 billion. President Obama is sure to lobby hard to preserve funding for energy projects, which he touted in his campaign. The New York Times has reported that the energy industry has influence in his administration equivalent to that of the oil industry in the Bush administration. Whether that relationship is entirely wholesome remains to be seen, but in either case, it should mean that many of the aforementionws allotments and projects will see execution.