As part the economic stimulus package, Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a $4 billion plan today in Jefferson City, Missouri to fund the construction of a new ‘smart’ electrical grid. The Vice President spoke at a stop at the ABB Transformer Factory, whose unionized workers make parts for Missouri’s Lost Creek Ridge wind farm project.

“We need an upgraded electrical grid to take full advantage of the vast renewable resources in this country – to take the wind from the Midwest and the sun from the Southwest and power areas across the country,” said Vice President Biden. “By investing in updating the grid now, we will lower utility bills for American families and businesses, lessen our dependence on foreign oil and create good jobs that will drive our economic recovery – a strong return on our investment.”

Under the plan the federal government will distribute more than $3.3 billion in smart grid technology development grants and an additional $615 million for smart grid storage, monitoring and technology viability.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who also traveled with Vice President Biden in Jefferson City, will hold a meeting in May with industry leaders in Washington to discussion implementation of the plan, according to the White House.

‘A smart electricity grid will revolutionize the way we use energy, but we need standards in place to ensure that all this new technology is compatible and operating at the highest cybersecurity standards to protect the smart grid from hackers and natural disasters,’ Locke said. ‘The Recovery Act will fund the development of those standards so the exciting technology can finally take off.’

The goal of the Obama administration will be to help electricity providers implement technologies that change how electricity systems are operated by offering ways to increase energy storage and aid the integration of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power with the electrical grid.

Secretary Chu said that a smart grid ‘will also expedite how we deliver renewable power to consumers, thus reducing the environmental impacts of generating electricity.”

The current inefficient grid wastes electricity, the production of which is tied to major environmental problems like global warming. In a report on greenhouse gas emissions released this week, the blamed in no small part the rise in emissions in 2007 (the last year it studied) to an increased consumption of fossil fuels for electricity usage. Sources estimate that about 50 percent of all US electricity is created by burning coal.

According to estimates by the Department of Energy, a smart grid that ran only five percent more efficiently than the present system could eliminate global warming-causing emissions equivalent to those created by 53 million cars.

In addition to these advantages, the expectation is that a smart grid can help utility companies avoid the kind of massive blackouts that have afflicted the current aging electricity grid during stressful periods like heavy usage in hot summer months or during storms.

Environmental groups have backed the Obama administration’s plan to invest in a new smart grid for these reasons. , for example, included it in its program for a clean energy economy. The labor movement has also backed the plan, because the new investments will create new jobs during the implementation phase but will also give a needed infrastructural boost to the alternative energy sector where more ‘green jobs’ will be created.

Under the Obama administration smart grid plan, electric utilities, companies that distribute or sell electricity, organizations that coordinate or control grid operations, appliance and equipment manufacturers, and firms that wish to install smart grid technology would be eligible to compete for federal government grants.