Outlook for more stimulus money improves

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(Host) The Douglas Administration says there’s a good chance that construction could begin this year on a variety of smart grid and broadband projects, financed with new federal stimulus money.

Vermont is seeking more than $200 million for the high tech proposals.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Federal stimulus money comes to the state in two different ways.  One program provides funds to every state.  Vermont is expected to receive over $700 million from this source.  The rules for these funds were put into place very quickly and the money is already flowing to Vermont.

The second category requires states to apply for competitive grants – Vermont is hoping to get about $200 million from this program.

Tom Evslin is the director of the state’s Economic Recovery office – a department that coordinates all requests for the federal money.

He says he was frustrated that the federal government was taking so long to draft rules for the grant program and he says the delay threatened to postpone Vermont projects until next spring.

But Evslin says the situation has now changed. Rules for the so called Smart Grid program have just been released and he says the state is ready to respond:

(Evslin) "The outlook is definitely better. And the other thing that I feel better about is, on the Smart Grid side at least, we’re not waiting anymore. We got the rules and now it’s heads down and work hard. So that’s much more comfortable for us than waiting and not being sure what we’re aiming at."

(Kinzel) Evslin says some of the Smart Grid projects, if they’re awarded grant money, could have a major impact on the way that electricity is consumed in Vermont in the future:

(Evslin)"These are the proposals that the utilities are working on to give consumers and businesses much more control over their electrical bills – to try to reduce the use of fossil fuels in generating electricity by using less peak electricity and to make it possible to use electricity for fueling up plug in hybrid vehicles or even for electric storage heat."

(Kinzel) Evslin says the state is also planning to apply for tens of millions of dollars in grants to expand broadband access throughout Vermont:

(Evslin) "It’s supposed to be aimed at rural areas. It’s supposed to give extra weight or probably most of the weight to serving the un-served and then after that the underserved."

(Kinzel) Evslin expects rules for this program will be released any day and he’s hopeful that construction can start on some of these projects by late fall.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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