After the election, Obama wanted his economic stimulus package to include some iconic, futuristic legacy projects to advance his long-term agenda. The smart grid seemed perfect, a modern moon mission, a 21st century version of the interstates. He suggested pouring in $100 billion. “Let’s just build it!” he told his transition team. His aides explained that that wasn’t possible or even desirable. Utilities own the grid, and they could pay to upgrade it themselves. But it would take decades to convert an analog grid to digital and string high-voltage wires nationwide. Ultimately, Obama settled for $11 billion in seed money. “There was this sense of frustration,” his former budget director Peter Orszag recalled when I interviewed him for my forthcoming book on the -stimulus, The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. “Here’s the first African–American President, the economy has fallen off a cliff, history is calling, and -really? I can’t just do a smart grid?”
No, Mr. President. You can’t just take over private property, nor erase the economic factors influencing utilities’ calculations about the relative merits of a smart grid. This isn’t Venezuela.