HOUSE CHANGES HANDS—Should Smart Grid Care?

In my 25 years plus in DC, I've spent about 15 of those as a lobbyist and have seen many presidents and Congresses change hands. I have always prided myself on being an issues person, building my case in a non-partisan way to press for overarching policy rather than technology-specific legislation or regulation. That said, I am also a realist and have learned to craft arguments based on what different audiences want to hear. With this changeover in Congress I won't be starting my pitch with "In a carbon constrained economy," for example. But is smart grid really the "what's not to like" suite of technologies that will play to this new crowd?

Let's look first at any Administration initiatives that could be in jeopardy, the stimulus being the most obvious. The Department of Energy's General Counsel confirmed that all of the smart grid investment grant and demonstration funds have been obligated with terms and conditions signed. That means any attempt at rescission would be a breach of contract. I can't see that happening. What I could envision is a series of serious oversight hearings about how the funds are being spent. Our best course here would be to line up some of the successes -- and some of the challenges as well -- so that we can have an honest discussion about what these funds have done. Is the Recovery Act doing what it was supposed to do and stimulating the economy We need to make sure we are ready with the answer to that question and have the data to prove it.

ARPA-E is another favorite program I would worry about. Republicans traditionally like basic R&D but this is an Obama-Chu initiative that may be tainted by their very support. The renewable energy loan guarantee program which was funded by the Recovery Act has been the Most Raided Pot to fund Cash for Clunkers and teachers salaries with no immediate prospect for reimbursement. I could see the Republicans trying to speed up progress on the original loan guarantee program for new and innovative technology, focusing on nuclear power plants. The credit subsidy cost will remain an issue.

So what can we get done in the new Congress? NIST needs more funding for standards testing and international collaboration. This program seems to have universal support. I also see electric vehicles having bi-partisan support so perhaps an EV provision would get through. I am also hopeful that some of the tax incentives for energy storage, manufacturing competitiveness, and accelerated depreciation of equipment would be popular.

Will our overall messaging shift? Perhaps we will steer clear of climate change and green jobs even if the outcome of our efforts will reduce the former and increase the latter. We need to focus on energy independence (EV's are good for this), economic growth (utility and manufacturing jobs green or not), and manufacturing competitiveness (smart grid innovation). We will want to continue to work on making capital available through financing mechanisms that incentivize innovation. Remember the campaign ads about China taking over our industry base? We can use that argument as the business case for clean technology deployment enabled by smart grid right here at home.

In other words, smart grid can continue to do what it's doing out there; we just need to make the right case to the right people.

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