Will Smart Meters, High-Speed Rail Be Built in California by 2015?

California green initiatives look hopeful despite budget crisis.

by / May 14, 2009

SACRAMENTO, Calif. --Two centerpieces of President Barack Obama's economic platform -- "smart" electricity grid technology and high-speed train service -- are still in the formative stage, and it's generally too early to know when and where those systems will mature.

But two government officials speaking Thursday at Government Technology's Conference on California's Future weren't hesitant to talk timelines.

Quentin Kopp, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said some segments of a 200 mph bullet train that's planned for the length of California -- like routes between San Francisco and San Jose, or Los Angeles and Anaheim -- could be ready for passengers as early as 2014 or 2015.

The completed Sacramento to San Diego line could cost approximately $45 billion, Kopp said, with some of that coming from the $8 billion set aside in the U.S. economic stimulus package for high-speed rail. Approximately $12 billion to $16 billion will come from federal grants, he said, in addition to $9 billion from general obligation bonds, and a portion of $1 billion per year over the next five years that's included with Obama's spending plan. Billions more will be raised from private equity.

Despite the state's troublesome budget outlook -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed Thursday selling state-owned assets like fairgrounds and sports arenas to bridge a $15 billion deficit -- Kopp said building the high-speed rail and securing funding is almost a certainty.

"It appears to me that money is the lesser of our problems," Kopp said about the rail project.

Smart Meters for Almost All

Paul Clanon, executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission, was equally bullish about the prospects for next-gen technology.

Within the next five years, 75 to 80 percent of Californians will have "smart meters" in their home and business, Clanon said.

Smart meters are updated electricity readers that send and receive data in real time between customers and utility companies. Smart meters are one component of the smart grid, which is expected to improve energy efficiency, reduce costs and improve reliability.

The smart grid will cost a lot up-front to build, Clanon said. California will spend $4.5 billion over the next five years on smart meters, he said. Coincidentally that's the same amount included for smart grid technology in the federal government's economic stimulus package.

Why go to such effort?

"The grid in California is as dumb as a box of rocks," Clanon explained.

Matt Williams Associate Editor