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Con Ed plugs into Homeland Security

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KAI RYSSDAL: Let’s stay with energy here for a bit. Electricity this time, via, strangely enough, the Department of Homeland Security.

New York City’s electric company is getting ready for a much-needed upgrade. And Marketplace’s Jill Barshay reports one clever high-tech executive figured how to get the federal government to foot part of the bill.

JILL BARSHAY: Consolidated Edison wants to spend almost $8 billion to upgrade the New York power grid.

The Department of Homeland Security isn’t in the electricity business, but it’s kicking in up to $25 million for a new electrical cable in Manhattan.

Steve Ellis is vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

STEVE ELLIS: This is just a subsidy for, you know, big business in Manhattan. And really is someplace where we don’t need to be spending taxpayer dollars.

But The Homeland Security Department says it wants to protect New York’s financial district. That includes making sure the electric grid is secure.

Jay Cohen is a Homeland Security undersecretary


JAY COHEN: If the bad guys are able to take down our cyber backbone, deny us the ability to make electronic transfers, then we’re gonna have, in my humble opinion, panic in the streets.

Con Edison says it wouldn’t install the new cable without the federal money. The company says it’s an experiment to see if new technology will work in a congested city.

But even the businesses involved in the Con Edison deal say it’s unusual for Homeland Security to fund an electricity project.

In fact, Adam Hughes of OMB Watch, which monitors government spending, says it’s bizarre.

ADAM HUGHES: Generally speaking, I think it’s good for our government to be making these sorts of investments. I think it may be a bit of a stretch to say that this is a key terrorism-prevention investment.

Hughes expects more electric companies to line up at the Homeland Security Department to ask for funds, too.

In Los Angeles, I’m Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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