Competitive federal funding is now available for public power utilities and could be used in conjunction with bonds, thanks to funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Department of Energy announced last week that as much as $32 million of money from the stimulus package would be available for projects to improve existing hydroelectric power infrastructure.

"We're talking about jobs building wind turbines and solar panels; jobs developing next-generation solutions for next-generation cars; jobs upgrading our outdated power grid so it can carry clean, renewable energy from the far-flung areas that harness it to the big cities that use it," President Obama said at a June 29 press conference announcing energy investments through the stimulus package. "We can remain the world's leading importer of oil, or we can become the world's leading exporter of clean energy."

It's too early to say whether the projects funded with the grants also would be funded with debt - such as clean renewable energy bonds - according to the American Public Power Association, which represents utilities. Spokesman Nick Braden said last week that whether bonds will be issued will become more clear as utilities begin applying for the grants.

The funds for hydroelectric power are available to applicants "within the hydropower industry" for projects expected to begin in fiscal 2010, and generally will go to shovel-ready projects, according to the DOE.

The hydroelectric power funding will help fund projects like turbine and technology improvements to increase power generation at non-federal hydro facilities. The money will have a matching or cost-sharing requirement.

Applications are due to the DOE by Aug. 20.

In addition, $45 million of discretionary grant money is available for certain wind-power projects "for the benefit of wind stakeholders nationwide." The funds are available to state, county, city, and special district governments as well as public, state-controlled, and private colleges. The grants have a cost-sharing or matching requirement, and the deadline to apply for those funds is Aug. 6.

Another $2.744 billion is available for energy efficiency and conservation block grants, with an Aug. 10 application deadline. The funds are noncompetitive, according to the DOE, and only states, territories, tribes, and local governments are eligible. The funding will "reduce the total energy use of the eligible entities, and improve energy efficiency in the building sector, the transportation sector, and other appropriate sectors."

About $3.375 billion is widely available - not only to public utilities - for the smart-grid investment grant program, which is part of the stimulus package but was initiated by a law during the Bush administration. The program provides funding to modernize transmission and distribution of energy.

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