Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Investing in Our Energy Future

Little more than a year after General Motors closed the Boxwood Road plant, Fisker Automotive announced plans to buy the facility and retool it to build plug in hybrid cars. Henrik Fisker stood with Vice President Joe Biden and Governor Jack Markell to make the announcement. Fisker will buy the plant for $18 million and invest ten times that amount to gear up to build a new sedan called Project Nina.
News Journal reporter Ginger Gibson calls it "a political victory of monstrous proportions" for Governor Jack Markell. But there is plenty of credit to go around with an announcement this big, and Markell covered the bases, mentioning Senators Carper and Kaufman, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara, DEDO Director Alan Levin, the United Auto Workers, and of course Joe Biden.
Fisker likewise gave ample credit to Markell and his team:
“The governor pulled together faster than I can take my family of four people to dinner,” Fisker said.
While Biden was in Delaware, President Obama traveled to the country's largest solar power plant to announce $3.4 billion in grants to promote smart grid technology. These grants will save energy by funding the installation of millions of smart meters in homes and businesses and in control systems to make the grid itself more flexible and responsive. This is important for renewable sources like wind and solar, and will help reduce energy loss between generators and end users. For instance, $13,698,091 will be going to PJM Interconnection, LLC, which manages the grid in our part of the country, for technology to "provide real-time data on the operating conditions of the transmission system."
In his remarks today, President Obama compared our current electrical grid to the old transportation grid:
To offer one analogy, just imagine what transportation was like in this country back in the 1920s and 1930s before the Interstate Highway System was built. It was a tangled maze of poorly maintained back roads that were rarely the fastest or the most efficient way to get from point A to point B. Fortunately, President Eisenhower made an investment that revolutionized the way we travel -- an investment that made our lives easier and our economy grow.
The payoff for investing in smart grid technology is obvious. A one percent improvement in energy efficiency is equivalent to increasing generating capacity by the same amount.
Converting a GM factory to build plug in hybrids is admittedly risky; there is no assurance that Fisker will succeed in the long or even medium term. But I am convinced it's a risk we have to take. Someone is going to build the future; why shouldn't we?
Even though we are putting billions into GM and Chrysler, we don't have to limit our vision or our investments to the old way of doing business. As Obama put it, we have to look to the future and not be held hostage to the past:
It's a debate between looking backwards and looking forward; between those who are ready to seize the future and those who are afraid of the future. And we know which side the United States of America has always come down on. We know that we've always been a people who were unafraid to reach for that more promising future.

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