Obama Feeling Smart (Grid) About Supporters

  • Published on March 4th, 2009

When Does an Interest Start Being “Special”?

After years of railing against special interests, I find myself presented with a quandary.  Special interests are lining up behind the Smart Grid technology I love and, in doing so, risk saddling this cool program with the baggage intrinsic to special interests.

Even as lawmakers spent yesterday grilling everyone from members of the DOE to representatives from Google about Smart Grids, the groundwork for a Smart Grid might already have been assumed.  And, no, I’m not talking power lines and sub stations, I’m talking political donations.

The Current System is… Old.  Very Old

It’s a fact: our current system for transporting, producing and storing energy is ancient and inefficient.  Plus, as has been well recorded here on Red Green and Blue, Smart Grid technology theoretically does amazing things for how we use power as a nation and maybe even how we think about consumption.  By using less energy during peak hours, and even allowing personal rigs to feed back into the electricity grid with ease, the technology refocuses the country on conservation.

Regardless, Smart Grids have already been noted as having some traction with the White House.  Obama came into office with a strong green agenda, and large pieces of the stimulus bill have been blocked out for the creation of a Smart Grid.

Follow the Money

In these cases, it’s always interesting to follow the money.  We’ve known for a while that people like Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, were behind Obama during the election.  What’s news to me are the numbers of alternative energy dollars (and technology dollars) across the board.  This article from Politico.com’s Erika Lovley, runs through the financial connections of everyone who is looking to make the Smart Grid the next big solution to our energy needs.  It feels like it’s been many years since powerful special interests were lobbying for things that I believe in, but one has finally come down the pike!

Workers at Microsoft, along with family members and other associates, gave more than $800,000 to Obama, while people connected to Google contributed nearly $784,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And those with ties to IBM gave more than $517,000.

Executives at some of the companies also helped line Obama’s coffers. Google Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond gave $4,600, and so did Robert Alan Eustace, senior vice president of engineering and research. At IBM, three senior officials gave either $2,300 or $4,600, and at Microsoft, two senior officials each gave $4,600. IBM’s Michael Parham also was an Obama campaign bundler, committing to raise $200,000.

These companies, of course, are central to the current version of a Smart Grid being realized, and stand to make a lot of cash in it doing so.  As someone who made a lot of hay about Bush’s connection to oil, I’m not sure how this sits with me.  The fact that the things I want to see done in energy policy are close to getting done is amazing, and certainly a new experience for my generation of environmentalists.  However, there is a principle of the separation of energy and state that I would love to see us work hard to maintain.

How much will Obama’s anti-lobby stance come back to haunt him as he supports a nation wide Smart-Grid proposal?  This remains to be seen.   But who am I even kidding?  Smart Grid technology has the science fiction geek in all of us excited.  Of course, there’s the outside risk of the Smart Grid becoming too smart, but John Connor will save us when that happens.

Image: CC Licensed by flickr user donlbe

About the Author

Alan Smith is a Freelance Producer in Brooklyn New York who’s been fortunate enough in the past to work on a Peabody award winning radio show (the Brian Lehrer show, WNYC Radio) and an Emmy nominated TV program (Brian Lehrer Live on CUNY TV). Other highlights include PhilanthroMedia, a new media company which works for social change with non-profits and foundations across the globe. In my spare time, I’m interested in the science and politics of the current green movement, and write about those things in and around whatever else crosses my grill at www.livingtheamericangreen.org