Recovery Act creating a new energy economy

It may not be the most popular term to throw around these days, but the $787 billion stimulus package passed in the early days of the Obama administration is still handing out dollars, and has the potential to transform how we use and store energy in this country.

Two-thirds of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was devoted to avoiding a catastrophic economic depression in the form of tax cuts and state-level bailouts (yet another toxic term). But a large chunk of cash is being directed towards endeavors that may potentially transform our electric grid, the way we travel, and how energy is produced and stored.

The outline of this Time article is that many of the novel, adventurous ideas within ARRA get little attention. Sure, most people are generally aware that there is a $5 billion weatherization plan to improve the efficiency of our homes, but how many people know of a new grant agency – modelled after the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, the folks who brought you such technologic leaps as GPS and the internet – housed in the Department of Energy that will fund promising ventures in the field of energy that are too risky to be undertaken by private companies? How many know that the two largest advanced solar thermal arrays in the world will be built with the help of ARRA funds? What about the funding to build a large fuel cell that can store grid electricity?

One aesthetic criticism of ARRA is that much of the money is going to decidedly un-sexy things like wastewater treatment plants, bus system repairs, and loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants. I say it’s time we bring sexy back! We need wastewater treatment plants to prevent pollution from seeping into our rivers, lakes, oceans, and groundwater! Buses are incredibly efficient when planned and funded well! Nuclear is certainly not a risk- or hazard-free enterprise, but at the moment, I’d take France’s electricity profile over our coal dominated and haphazard production system any day.

Through ARRA we’ve finally made a down payment on a new energy future in America. That future may not be immediately apparent, and it will definitely involve some failures, but it’s a big step in the right direction. You can track ARRA spending online through the Recovery.gov website.

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tim