The Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago (BOMA Chicago) is going where no non-utility has gone before – into line for a federal smart grid handout.

BOMA Chicago and its partners are asking the Department of Energy for $92.7 million to help make a "virtual generator" out of 260 downtown office buildings. The money would come from DOE's $3.4 billion Smart Grid Investment Grant Program (see Smart Grid Applications at $2.85B and Counting).

The idea is to install smart meters at those buildings and monitor and control them from a BOMA Chicago network operating center. That, of course, will require major upgrades to building automation systems and software.

But being able to turn down those buildings' power in concert – along with adding backup generators, solar panels or other distributed power generation sources to the upside – could offer demand response and energy efficiency savings of up to 20 percent, worth about $30 million a year in new revenue, the association claimed.

That gives it "more bang for the buck than any other program we have seen," BOMA Chicago Executive Vice President Michael Cornicelli said in a news release.

It's hard to say how an application for a business association-controlled smart grid system will play out against those being proposed by utilities themselves. What's certain is that it will face some pretty hefty competition.

The DOE has closed the first round of applications for the grant program, and expects to announce the first set of grant winners in October. Hundreds of utilities have applied, and added up, publicly announced requests have already exceeded the $3.4 billion available.

And because the money is meant to create jobs quickly, industry watchers expect that the DOE could deplete that amount in its first round of funding. That could also put an end to the "stimulus slowdown" effect noted by some smart meter vendors and industry analysts, as utilities have held off on making decisions on big projects until they know how much federal money they can rely on (see Green Light post).

BOMA Chicago does say that some of its 91 fellow chapters could replicate the project in their cities at a lower cost once the kinks are worked out, potentially multiplying its stimulative effects in a way utility-specific projects might not.

But with vendors serving multiple utilities and partnering to integrate their technology – and regulators and industry clamoring for standards to make present and future projects interoperable – it's likely that kind of replication will be happening anyway.

As far as who it would like to work with, BOMA Chicago said that demand response provider Metropolitan Energy would design, build and run the NOC, and Schneider Electric would be the contractor. The French power giant has also lined up BOMA's end of the $92.7 million commitment in financing through Bank of America and other sources, reports Crain's.

BOMA Chicago also has the city, utility Commonwealth Edison, grid operator PJM, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Illinois' congressional delegation listed as supporters. But then, Commonwealth Edison has applied for $175 million in smart grid stimulus grants on its own (see Green Light post).

Interact with smart grid industry visionaries from North American utilities, innovative hardware and software vendors and leading industry consortiums at The Networked Grid on November 4 in San Francisco.