Obama announces jolt of job-creating stimulus money to modernize U.S. electrical grid

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President Barack Obama announced $3.4 billion in spending for the nation's power transmission system Tuesday. White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein talks to The Associated Press about the new 'smart' electric grid. (Oct. 27)

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By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

ARCADIA, FLA. -- President Obama stepped up his promotion of the job-creating potential of the $787 billion economic stimulus package Tuesday, announcing $3.4 billion in grants to improve the nation's electrical grid.

The federal money will pay for "smart meters," updated transformers and other devices to make the transmission of power more efficient and reliable. Obama called the grants the largest investment in energy-grid modernization in U.S. history.

"There's something big happening in America in terms of creating a clean-energy economy," he said.

Obama's vision for changing energy habits and reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, especially foreign oil, relies on establishing a national "smart grid": an array of switches, sensors and computer chips that will be installed at various stages in the energy-delivery process.

But no less important to the administration are the job-creation aspects of the investments. With the nation's unemployment rate at 9.8 percent and projected to rise, energy technology promises a bounty of new jobs.

The Commerce Department is scheduled to release estimates Thursday of economic growth for the third quarter of 2009, and for the first time in a year, forecasters say, the economy has expanded.

But job losses continue to plague the country, although not nearly as much as when Obama took office. That has left an opening for Republican critics, who have said that rising unemployment is evidence that the president's economic policies are not working.

"We've seen a $4 trillion budget -- $787 billion stimulus, $700 billion financial bailouts, health care, cap and trade [climate change legislation]. Everything seems to be more government, big government," said Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.).

While many economists say the stimulus money has helped stabilize the economy, most voters think otherwise, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. It found that 22 percent of Americans think the package has made the economy worse, while 35 percent say it has had no effect.

That sentiment is lending urgency to the administration's efforts to stem unemployment and talk up the virtues of its economic approach.

On Tuesday, Vice President Biden celebrated plans to reopen a General Motors plant in Wilmington, Del., to produce long-range plug-in electric hybrid vehicles.

The plant has been purchased by luxury automaker Fisker Automotive, which plans to hire 2,000 workers to manufacture the cars, and estimates are that 3,000 other jobs will be created to support the operation. The undertaking is being financed by a $529 million Energy Department loan.


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