Electric Grants and Broadband

The U.S. Department of Energy finally announced the first round of grant applications for funding that was created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. While these grants are aimed at improving the electric grid, any projects built with these grants could also build some fiber. The grants will total $13 billion. It’s worth noting that 30% of the funding will go to small utilities that sell no more than 4 million MWh of electricity per year.

There will be $10.5 billion in grants from the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnership, or GRIP grants. Within the GRIP grant program are three separate programs:

  • $2.5 billion will go to grid resiliency grants to provide infrastructure to improve the survivability of the electric grid from weather-related and other events.
  • There are $3 billion for smart grid grants that can be used for projects that add intelligence to the electric grid.
  • Finally, $5 billion in grants is aimed at grid innovation. This grant is looking for creative ideas for improving the electric grid.

The other grant program is the Transmission Facilitation Program, which will provide $2.5 billion to improve the long-haul electric grid between communities.

The first and immediate round of funding for the GRIP program will be for $3.9 billion, with additional rounds of funding being announced next year. Unlike broadband grants, the first-round GRIP grants are on a rapid timeline. It took the DOE over a year to announce the specifics of the grants, but there are almost immediate deadlines coming. The White House has said that it wants to see more of the infrastructure spending being used, and this timeline will see grant awards made in 2023.

  • Anybody interested in applying for the smart grid or resiliency grants must submit a concept paper by December 16 that explains the proposed project. Concept papers for the innovation grants are due January 13. Concept papers for the transmission grants are due February 1. The DOE will have to accept a concept paper in order for an applicant to move on to the next phase of the grant application.
  • Full grant applications for the smart grid, grid resilience, and innovation programs will be due in March, April and May, respectively.

All of these grants could propose building fiber as part of the solution. Fiber is a way to get more brains into the electric grid and as a tool for making networks more resilient. There is no reason why any constructed fiber from these grants couldn’t serve the dual role of supporting a broadband network.

The short timelines for the first round of funding are going to make it a challenge for anybody that doesn’t already have a grant proposal on the drawing board. It seems unlikely that anybody who hasn’t already done so could create a partnership with an electric company and meet the concept paper deadlines. But electric companies can do this quickly, and I would expect that municipal electric companies and electric cooperatives will propose concept papers that will both improve the electric grid and also improve fiber infrastructure.

These grant announcements are a wake-up call for communities that have not already had discussions about how to improve the electric grid. There is still time to create partnerships for future grant cycles, but the time to start these discussions is now.

According to the DOE, these grants are only the down payment for the funding needed to improve electric grids. Jennifer Granholm, the Secretary of Energy, says the country might need to triple transmission capacity by 2050. Unfortunately, there were insufficient votes in the Senate to approve a large amount of proposed additional funding for the electric grid.

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