May 15, 2009

We need 'smart grid,' not new lines

By Mike Marion

Boulder, Colo. is 1,755 miles from Sussex County. But when it comes to enlightened policy for electricity management, it might as well be on another planet.

You see, while Sussex County is scrambling in its resistance to a Public Service Electric & Gas plan to construct a mammoth transmission pipe right through the heart of the county, Boulder is on a different path -- one focused on realizing the benefits of "smart grid" technology.

Thanks to Xcel Energy, the supplier of power to eight western and midwestern states, some 50,000 meters in Boulder are being converted to smart grid technology ("SmartGridCity", as they refer to it), allowing consumers to know at any time how much electricity they're using, at what price and with the flexibility to change their consumption accordingly.

"We're on our way toward building the grid of the future and making "SmartGridCity" a reality," says Dick Kelly, Xcel Energy chairman, president and CEO.

Imagine that your electrical utility is actually listening to you and then responding to your preferences.

Unfortunately for northern New Jersey residents, PSE&G is choosing not to listen and instead is pulling out all the stops in an effort to get its whopping $1 billion transmission line "upgrade" built.

Make no mistake, this 140-mile, 500-KV line -- between PPL Electric Utility's substation in Berwick, Pa., and PSE&G's substation in Roseland -- is just a much larger version of yesterday's technology.

If allowed to proceed, the project's impact on our beautiful rural county will be both dramatic and permanent. It will truly be a parade-like procession of gargantuan power towers, transforming a bucolic recreational space into a western suburb of Orange. It is the ultimate manifestation of a "grow and use more" strategy as opposed to a more enlightened "conserve and be smarter in using what we have" strategy.

If there was ever a time to challenge conventional thinking with a more visionary approach to our energy problems, it is now. Our president has declared his commitment to bringing fresh solutions to our nation's antiquated infrastructure.

Thankfully, there are positive examples of leadership emerging, and it's those examples we need to embrace. Even if they're all the way out in Boulder.