Upgrading the Electric Grid


By Kris FitzPatrick, Staff Editor

While our electric grid hums along, unnoticed 99 percent of the time, it is among the most antiquated physical infrastructure systems in America. This reality rears its head occasionally, such as in the 2003 Northeast blackout. But proponents of smart grid technology are trying to spur investment in massive upgrades that will enable energy efficiency and possibly significant consumer savings.

As the New York Times describes, in a first-of-its-kind move, the Illinois legislature is allowing the state's major utility, ComEd, to recover costs of upgrading the grid through ratepayer bills. Some consumer advocates object to this cost allocation structure, but others argue the long-term consumer and environmental benefits will far outweigh the upfront cost. Although the $2.6 billion project is only a fraction of the multi-trillion investment experts say is required, the pilot will be significant in assessing whether the smart grid can live up to its promise.

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