U.S. Energy Dept offers $3.4 billion in smart grid grants

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Energy Department on Thursday launched the process to distribute more than $3 billion in grants for “smart grid” technology to modernize electricity transmission.

The program, authorized by the economic stimulus package passed by Congress earlier this year, will provide financial assistance from $500,000 to $20 million, matching up to 50 percent of approved project costs.

“By investing in updating the grid now, we will lower utility bills for American families and businesses, lessen our dependence on foreign oil and create good jobs that will drive our economic recovery -- a strong return on our investment,” U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement.

The program will also give out $100,000 to $5 million grants for organizations deploying grid monitoring devices.

The notice for the program will be open to public comment for 20 days, after which the department will finalize details and start accepting applications.

So called smart grids utilize computers and sensors at power plants to create more efficient and less costly methods of moving electricity, especially from renewable sources.

In addition to the grant program, the Energy Department also released a draft funding for $615 million in grants for smart grid demonstration projects. Eligible projects must partner with an electric utility and get at least 50 percent of funding from non-federal government sources.

Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Christian Wiessner