The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has made plans to seek up to $200 million in smart grid stimulus funds – and while details on those plans remain unclear at present, they may be focused on using public cellular networks and technology from SmartSynch for smart meter communications.

Those are some conclusions that can be drawn from a funding request contained in a City of Los Angeles document laying out various grants it's seeking from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The document includes a $200 million line item for the city-owned utility under the title "Smart Grid Implementation Project."

While the document doesn't specify what stimulus program the utility may be applying to for the funds, $200 million is the maximum amount allowed under the Department of Energy's Smart Grid Investment Grant Program (see DOE Issues Rules for $3.9B in Smart Grid Stimulus Grants).

It is estimated that hundreds of utilities have applied for grants under the program, including many that are seeking the $200 million maximum to help speed up or expand smart meter deployments (see Green Light post).

The LADWP is the largest municipal utility in the country, with about 1.4 million customers. In May 2008 it outlined to the California Energy Commission a smart grid plan that includes deploying about 100,000 two-way smart meters and another 1.3 million "drive-by," one-way communicating meters over five years.

Whether or not the $200 million request is meant to be applied to that smart grid project or another project isn't clear. Utility representatives did not return phone calls requesting comment on Tuesday.

But if the $200 million is meant to apply to that project – and if the money is awarded, which is an open question given that there are far more applications than money available – that could be a boon to SmartSynch, a company that has staked its business on using public cellular networks to carry smart meter data.

The Jackson, Miss.-based company has been making technology to link commercial and industrial smart meters to utilities via cellular networks for years. In March, it said it would work with AT&T to expand that to residential smart meters (see Your Electrical Meter Becomes a Cellphone).

But so far the two have publicly announced only one small contract for that service, to link about 10,000 homes served by Texas-New Mexico Power Co. (see Green Light post).

The LADWP has used SmartSynch for a previous deployment of smart meters for commercial and industrial customers, and plans to award SmartSynch a more recent contract for up to $8.9 million for "wireless communications services for smart grid infrastructure and outage management metering," according to the agenda for a July 21 meeting of the utility's board of directors.

The utility also stated in its May 2008 planning document that it would seek to use public wireless networks to link smart meters, including those at residences, noted Ben Schuman, analyst with Pacific Crest Securities.

That planning document did not name SmartSynch or AT&T specifically. Still, given the utility's existing business relationship and its emphasis on public wireless networks, "It seems that SmartSynch would have a leg up there" in seeking contracts under the utility's smart meter plans, Schuman said.

LADWP's smart grid plans also extend to a partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology to work on energy efficiency, renewable energy and smart grid technologies.  

The utility hasn't been entirely successful in its clean energy plans. Los Angeles voters in March narrowly defeated a ballot measure that sought to give the utility the authority to install 400 megawatts of solar panels in the L.A. region by 2014 (see L.A. Voters Say 'No' to Solar Measure).

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.