Feds pledge $89 million to study Northwest’s power grid

RICHLAND — A project to examine how high technology can improve the Pacific Northwest’s electric power grid has received an $88.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The money, to help pay for the $177.6 million Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, was the largest among 32 grants DOE announced Tuesday as part of $620 million in stimulus aid.

The grant will go to Battelle Memorial Institute in Richland, which will manage the project. The remainder of the project’s cost will be borne by energy providers, utilities, technology companies and research organizations taking part.

A “smart grid” uses computers and communication technology to optimize how electricity is generated, transmitted, distributed and used. The Northwest study will involve more than 60,000 electricity customers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Battelle estimates that at its peak, the project could generate about 1,500 jobs in manufacturing, installing and operating the smart grid network.

Among those taking part in the project are the campuses of the University of Washington in Seattle and Washington State University in Pullman. At both schools, “smart meters” will be installed to provide real-time information on power consumption, along with software and other gear to automate and monitor the electricity distribution system.

In Washington, Seattle City Light will work with the University of Washington and Avista Utilities with WSU. Other Washington utilities and sites involved are Inland Power &Light Co. in Airway Heights, the city of Ellensburg, Peninsula Light Co. on Fox Island and the Benton Public Utilities District in Kennewick.

Other utilities and test sites for the project include Idaho Falls Power in Idaho; Flathead Electric Cooperative Inc. and NorthWestern Energy in Montana; the Bonneville Power Administration, Portland General Electric in Salem, and the city of Milton-Freewater in Oregon; and Lower Valley Energy in Wyoming.

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