President Obama on Tuesday announced a $3.4 billion federal investment to modernize the country's outdated power grid.
The money will go to 100 projects in 49 states to add automated substations, digital transformers, electric meters in homes and other high-tech equipment to create a "smart" grid.
"We're going to create an energy superhighway," Mr. Obama said when making the announcement at Florida Power & Light Co.'s DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia, Fla., one of the country's biggest solar-power facilities.
Mr. Obama used the nationally televised event to promote climate-change legislation in Congress that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time.
"We've heard these arguments before," he said. "People don't like change. They get nervous."
The House has passed the legislation, and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works began hearings Tuesday morning on its own version.
The money will be released in the form of grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and recipients will have to match the federal money with an equal amount of private investment.
Administration officials said that the program includes $4.7 billion in private investments and that grants range from $400,000 to $200 million.
"They've got some real skin in the game here, which also makes good economic sense," said Jared Bernstein, chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
For example, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. will receive $200 million and invest $251 million of its own to install 1.1 million smart meters and the information systems to manage them. The money also will go toward installing 400,000 in-home devices, including communicating thermostats and in-home displays to help consumers manage their power usage.
"The current system is certainly outdated; it's dilapidated," said Carol M. Browner, an assistant to the president for energy and climate change.
Mr. Bernstein joined Ms. Browner on Monday night in briefing reporters about the initiative.
The projects were selected from 400 proposals. The money will be disbursed in the next two months, and work is expected to be completed within three years.
In addition to the need to upgrade the grid and help consumers, the money also was needed to encourage the development of such renewable energy sources as wind and solar power, administration officials said.
The initiative will bring 18 million smart meters into U.S. homes and spur private investment to add an additional 22 million over the next several years, officials said.
The meters, in combination with smart thermostats, will save electricity and money by helping customers control how and when they use power.
"They can monitor [energy use] to the month, week, day or hour," said Mr. Obama, who compared the effort to overhaul the grid with what it took Americans to win World War II and to put a man on the moon.
"It's all hands on deck," he said.
Officials also said the initiative will create and save tens of thousands of jobs through the manufacture and installation of such equipment as 850 new grid sensors, 200,000 digital transformers to minimize power outages and 170,000 smart thermostats.
Such technology will help power companies find and correct service interruptions more quickly, the president said.
Officials said the applicants included cities, developers, large utilities and small utilities.