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Smart grid customers: three developments

Three developments for your consideration.

First, tomorrow marks the kick-off for the "Green Button" initiative, which will be implemented by California's three major investor-owned utilities.

San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric will provide a combined 10 million customers with simplified access to their energy use data by the online tool dubbed the "Green Button."

The Green Button was developed by the power industry, according to the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which I'd guess means utilities and vendors with support from Aneesh Chopra, the United States' chief technical officer and assistant to President Obama, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institute for Standards and Technology.

If I follow the thinking correctly, a simple, universal means of accessing one's own energy use data is aimed at engaging the nation's utility customers, arousing their interest in managing their energy use and assisting utilities in meeting their energy management goals, presumably by shaving peaks and deferring new generation. The notion of simplified, universal access is modeled on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' popular "Blue Button," which provides veterans with access to their health records.

Apparently, a number of applications will be available to help consumers make energy-related decisions, from budgeting their energy use to energy efficiency measures to installing solar photovoltaics on homes. 

For customers, this would represent a wholesome change from the guesswork involved when the bill comes after-the-fact and provide an ongoing opportunity to budget and manage energy use. I'd guess that granularity would come wherever and whenever home area networks are implemented.

I'm not sure yet what the timeframe is for the energy use data made available by the Green Button, which could vary from utility to utility. But I have a hard time imagining much pushback on this offering, though with 10 million Californians getting this option, we should hear in a few months on its uptake, persistence of use and any associated issues. 

Second, the continuing saga in Naperville, Ill., took a turn last Friday as the city's Local Electoral Board found an insufficient number of signatures were submitted to get a non-binding referendum on the March 20 primary ballot. That referendum, as faithful readers know, would have asked citizens whether the city should halt its smart grid program and "dismantle all related equipment." The measure of public sentiment was pushed by the so-called Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group, which appeared to be a group of five individuals who are very upset about the whole matter. (See "Smart Meter Opposition Saga, Continued" and "Naperville's Meters and Their Foes.")

Apparently, 565 signatures of about 4,200 submitted were by folks who are not registered  to vote in Naperville. Thus this referendum bites the dust. Personally, I had hoped the question made the ballot, because that would give a better read on the inroads made by the anti-meter group, which has attempted to upend the city's grid modernization effort by fomenting fear about the purported health effects of the meters, data privacy and security concerns and cost. Yet the results might also have been driven by the mention of the $22 million price tag during difficult economic times. Instead, Naperville's track record of grid improvements and transparency around that work will enable it to move forward. For details on its opt-out offering and other details, check the links provided above.

Finally, for today, a quick note on the continuing issue of cost recovery for Xcel Energy for its SmartGridCity project in Boulder, Colo. Xcel, as you may know, won $27.9 million in cost recovery last year towards its $45 million expenditure. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission withheld $16.6 million until Xcel could establish tangible value to its customers, who are footing the bill. (See "The Trouble With (For) IOUs" and "SmartGridCity: Did Xcel Get Results?")

A few Xcel customers weighed in with public comments that essentially asked why the Colorado PUC is allowing Xcel to recoup its costs solely from ratepayers and not shareholders, why all of Xcel's Colorado customers have to pay for an experiment in Boulder and, in general, why Xcel was allowed to in so many words run amok.

Recently the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel also filed an objection to the latest Xcel effort to recoup that last $16.6 million by posing seven questions, which included whether Xcel had established that its costs were prudently incurred, whether SGC's potential value justified its cost overruns and whether the utility has achieved actual customer benefits in a cost-effective manner. Xcel has filed testimony and a report on SGC's purported outcomes and the Colorado PUC soon will be weighing the pros and cons of further cost recovery. We'll be following this case as it develops.

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily


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