Smart Grid/Meter Info
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(NOTE: As of July 2012, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that the Public Utilities Commission failed to properly address health and safety concerns regarding Central Maine Power's use of Smart Meters and remanded this issue back to the Public Utilities Commission. The Public Utilities Commission has opened a docket to examine the health and safety issues.)
PUC Approves smart meter opt out program.
On May 17, 2011 the Maine Public Utilities Commission ordered CMP to create an opt out program for customers who do not want a wireless smart meter. This decision was the result of an investigation following numerous complaints from customers about health and privacy concerns. View a copy of the Commission's order. In the short term, CMP will be preparing a communication program that will inform customers about the meters and the option.
Options and costs. Customers will have four options.
Why are opt out customers required to pay? The investigation conducted at the PUC indicated that there are costs associated with the existing analog and the transmitter off options. These include the costs of having those meters read manually, and insuring that the smart meter system will function properly even with some customers opting out, and other charges. These costs were reviewed by Commission Staff and by experts hired by the Public Advocate and appear to be reasonably necessary. The issue of who pays these costs is troublesome. On the one hand, the question of whether it is fair to require people to pay extra to feel that they have a healthy home is a legitimate one. On the other hand, it is unfair to require customers who do not want to opt out to pay for those who do. This would happen if the costs of the opt out program were put into the rates paid by all. Given this poor choice, the Public Advocate chose to support the Staff's proposal in which the costs become the responsibility of the opt out customers. This is what was approved by the Commission. We asked for, and the Commission approved a break for those low income customers who qualify for LIHEAP assistance.
The method of notifying customers about the options was spelled out in the Commission's Order as follows:
If CMP has not yet installed smart meters in your area: "before beginning deployment in a particular area, CMP provide notice to customers in that area about the opt-out options available consistent with the communications plan described in this Order, and provide customers with 30 days from when the notice is sent to make an opt-out enrollment decision and inform CMP of their election. CMP shall begin providing such notifications as soon as reasonably possible, but in no event later than 30 calendar days after the date of this Order."
If CMP has installed meters in your area and you have already asked not to have one: "within 30 calendar days after the date of this Part I Order, for customers in areas in which deployment has occurred, CMP contact customers that have requested that a smart meter not be installed and provide notice to those customers about the opt-out options available consistent with the communications plan described in this Order. CMP may notify customers who use e-billing to pay their monthly CMP bill by email or phone and all other customers by phone."
The PUC's order approving the opt out plan contains the following description of the communication plan CMP must prepare: CMP shall "develop and implement a communication plan that shall inform customers about the opt-out program during smart meter deployment. The communication plan must provide the following information:
- A description of the smart meter program, including wireless smart meter capabilities and communication mode;
- The benefits of wireless smart meters and the smart meter program;
- The opt-out options available;
- Information regarding the development of standard wireless smart meters with the NIC operating in receive-only mode and an estimated date that they will be available for deployment;
- The capabilities and communication modes of the opt-out options;
- The process to select an opt-out option;
- The opt-out option charges (i.e., the Initial and Monthly Charges and the late opt-out election surcharge); and
- The existing meter relocation alternative.
The communications plan should incorporate both written communications and communication via CMP's website. The term "wireless" shall be used when describing standard smart meters. CMP shall continue the plan until such time as the Commission determines it is no longer of benefit to ratepayers."
Low income customers who qualify for LIHEAP assistance were granted a discount on the opt out charges. The Commission's Order stated that "for customers determined eligible for LIHEAP whose income is determined to be equal to or less than 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, both the Initial and ongoing Monthly Charges associated with the opt-out option selected by the customer will be reduced by 50%, and for LIHEAP-eligible customers whose income is determined to be greater than 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, the charges will be reduced by 25%."
A. What is the Smart Grid?
"Smart grid" is a loose term for any application of digital technology to electric transmission and distribution systems. Smart grid technology has the potential to change the way that energy is used and controlled. There are digital devices, for example, that can monitor local control centers and provide specific data for use in the operation of the bulk power transmission system.
At the local "distribution" level, for the customers of CMP and Bangor Hydro, the smart grid takes the form of new meters. Most Bangor Hydro customers already have such meters and CMP has just begun the installation of these meters (a process that will take a year and a half). There is a difference between Bangor Hydro's and CMP's meters in how they send information back to the utility. BHE's meters send the information along the actual power lines and CMP's use radio transmissions. These smart meters, together with radio transmitters, collectors their respective communication hardware and a central data management computer make up, for both utilities, new technology known as Advanced Metering Infrastructure or AMI. For both utilities, the Public Utilities Commission has approved the installation and use of AMI.
What makes these meters different from the old electromechanical meters is their ability to transmit data from the meter to the collectors and on to the central computer without the need for a meter reader. Data can be transmitted frequently, like once every fifteen minutes, or less frequently, like once per day. Each transmission lasts less than a second. Also, unlike the old meters, utilities can "ping" or test the meters from the central office to see if the customer has power. According to the utilities' promises, this should help with power restoration efforts following storms. Despite an AMI track record of several years in various places throughout the world, neither CMP or Bangor Hydro presented any meaningful evidence that outages experienced by customers will be shorter when they sought approval for their projects.
Two Ways to Save: Another promise touted by CMP and Bangor Hydro is that customers will have the ability to save money in one of two ways. First, customers will be able to see their usage in real time (if they are willing and able to purchase a device known as an In Home Display, currently costing about $150) or on the following day if the customer has a personal computer. In these cases, customers can begin to get a better sense of how they use power and may be able to adjust usage to save. Second, "dynamic pricing" rate plans may allow customers to save during peak usage times (hot summer days) by using less. If you are home during such days, and have electrical appliances you can turn down or off, you may be able to save under this type of plan. In the long run, we understand that new appliances will be able to communicate with the meters in ways that could lead to more efficient power use and lower bills.
We Opposed the Utilities' Requests. At this time, we are not convinced that the promises of AMI outweigh the risks and we remain concerned that the reality will be quite different from the predictions. This is a technology that is evolving, and we are concerned that the systems being installed now may soon become obsolete or suffer from debilitating "bugs" and other problems. Dynamic pricing rate plans will not work if customers are not motivated to use these features or can't cut back on usage at the peak time. Also, this technology is vulnerable to cyber-attacks. We are concerned about the possibility that someone might be able to figure out how to get into the utility's AMI central system and cause damage. Finally, the approved costs of these systems were based on utility estimates. In our experience, estimates are always lower than the actual final costs and we are very concerned that the final cost of CMP's and Bangor Hydro's AMI systems will add a significant burden to customers whose electric bills are already too high.
The Public Advocate presented these arguments to the Commission back when the utilities were seeking approval for the investement, but each request was approved over our objections. Not only did the Commission approve the projects, but earlier in its case, when CMP sought to suspend its request for authority to invest in AMI, the Commission encouraged them not to. We sincerely hope our fears do not come true, and that AMI becomes the useful and cost-effective tool the utilities say it is. Because we know that not all customers are able or willing to participate, we will insist that any rate or usage application be strictly voluntary. Customers may simply not be interested or motivated to take the time to save what might turn out to be a very small amount of money. On the other hand, there are surely customers who look forward to the opportunity to save on their bills (and help reduce pollution from power plants) by using the additional information provided by the meters to cut back on their usage.
1. Remote Disconnection
Some of CMP's meters will allow the utility to remotely disconnect and reconnect service. This makes sense for rental units, especially those that have shown high tenant turnover. CMP will also use them, however, for customers who have a history of difficulty paying bills. While current PUC rules allow for this, we view this as very risky because of the possibility that the wrong house will be disconnected or that reconnection will malfunction. Also, when a CMP worker physically visits the premises to disconnect the power it not only reduces the chance of a wrongful disconnection, it also gives a non-paying customer one last chance to pay and avoid the dark. These benefits and protections vanish with AMI.
The following articles and links have been gathered from various sources throughout the country. We intend to update this page with news from Maine and articles from elsewhere.
B. NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Inoperability Standards, Release 1.0
This document describes a high-level conceptual reference model for the Smart Grid, identifies 75 existing standards that are applicable (or likely to be applicable) to the ongoing development of the Smart Grid, specifies 15 high-priority gaps and harmonization issues (in addition to cyber security) for which new or revised standards and requirements are needed, documents action plans with aggressive timelines by which designed standards-setting organizations (SSOs) will address these gaps, and describes the strategy to establish requirements and standards to help ensure Smart Grid cyber security.
2. Related Documents
C. Smart Grid Information Clearinghouse
The Smart Grid Information Clearinghouse website is being assembled by Virginia Tech at the request of the US Department of Energy. In July 2009 DOE issued a press release announcing grant to create the Smart Grid Clearing.
US Department of Energy Selected Virginia Tech Team To Develop the Smart Grid Information Clearinghouse
DoE Press Release July 20, 2009
Secretary Chu Announces More than $57 Million in Recovery Act Funding to Advance Smart Grid Development
Secretary Chu announced today that the Department has begun the development of a Smart Grid Information Clearinghouse. The Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) was selected as the winner of the $1.3 million initiative to develop and maintain the Clearinghouse website, which will be charged with answering questions from the public and distributing information about smart grid initiatives occurring nationwide.
This project is managed by and run from the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute in Arlington, VA with assistance from the IEEE Power & Energy Society and EnerNex Corporation. The objective is to design, populate, manage and maintain a public Smart Grid Information Clearinghouse (SGIC) portal. Contents in the SGIC portal will include demonstration projects, use cases, standards, legislation, policy and regulation, lessons learned and best practices, and advanced topics dealing with research and development. The SGIC database will highlight the rapidly evolving opportunity to use electricity in an environmentally responsible way. It is envisioned that the SGIC portal will be the essential gateway that connects the smart grid community to the relevant sources of information that are currently scattered and distributed on the worldwide web. The portal will also direct its users to other pertinent sources or databases for additional data, case studies, etc. It will serve as a decision support tool for both state and federal regulators in their deliberations for rule-making and evaluating the impact of their investments in the smart grid technologies and software.
For further information, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Virginia Tech has made available to a group of interested parties, including the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA), the national organization of agencies like the Office of Public Advocate, a link to their web site which is nearing completion. The link takes you to a beta version of the website, which is expected to be replaced with the finished site early this Fall.
D. The Need for Essential Consumer Protections: Smart Metering Proposals and the Move to Time-Based Pricing
Requested by the White House and developed by five national organizations (Consumers Union, National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, Public Citizen, National Consumer Law Center, and AARP), with recommendations and best practices for implementing Smart Metering while providing customers with reasonable protections. Maine included language concerning consumer education and protection as part of our new Smart Grid law, and our inclusion of system-wide and comprehensive Smart Grid planning and development provisions in that same law put Maine ahead of other states in developing a rational response to this new and promising technology. This document can help put flesh on the bones of your decision to make sure regulators don't lose sight of the ratepayer and consumer as they develop Maine's Smart Grid.
3. Related Documents
E. "Smart Grid" Spending: A Commission's Pitch-Perfect Response to a Utility's Seven Errors
Essay is written by Scott Hempling, executive director of the National Regulatory Research Institute, about the Maryland Public Service Commission's June 2010 rejection of Baltimore Gas and Electric's Smart Grid proposal because it "asks BGE's ratepayers to take significant financial and technological risks and adapt to categorical changes in rate design, all in exchange for savings that are largely indirect, highly contingent and a long way off". The Maryland PSC decision was the event that seems to have triggered the significant increase in both the level of public information, and public interest, in Smart Grid matters.
F. PG&E Advanced Metering Assessment Report: Executive Summary
By the fall of 2009, the California PUC had logged more than 600 consumer complaints about higher than expected electric bills after installation of PG&E smart meters. In response, the CPUC commissioned the Structure Group to conduct an independent evaluation of the accuracy of those meters. This is the executive summary to the report released in September 2010. Given the backlash elsewhere in the country, this report provides valuable learnings for utilities and other stakeholders.
4. Related Documents
G. Saving the Smart Grid
by Steven Andersen
The industry is learning some painful lessons about public communication. Hype has given way to hysteria over smart grid rollouts, and forced many companies to re-think their strategies. Capturing the benefits of new technology requires a straightforward approach to selling the benefits - and facing the costs. READ MORE