• Report: CVPS smart grid a model for other utilities
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     | February 20,2012
     

    Utilities and policymakers around the country could learn a valuable lesson from the approach Central Vermont Public Service Corp. is taking to implement deployment of its $63 million smart grid project, according to a study from the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment.

    “CVPS SmartPower: A Smart Grid Collaboration in Vermont,” highlighted the importance of the collaborative approach taken by CVPS with the other utilities and its efforts at educating customers about its smart grid project.

    “Collaboration is arguably the most important lesson that the CVPS study provides,” concluded the 32-page report released Monday. “Collaboration has made developing and implementing CVPS SmartPower, as well as other utilities’ smart grid investments, more efficient, cost-effective, and technically sound.”

    CVPS, Green Mountain Power Corp., and the state’s other electric utilities are implementing smart grid programs that they say will allow consumers to monitor in real-time their energy consumption with the potential to save on their electric bills. It will also allow utilities to more effectively manage their peak loads and better respond to power outages, more precisely pinpointing the location.

    The report is part of a broader study begun last year by the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. Funded by a Department of Energy grant, the study is looking at the smart grid experiences of seven utilities in order to make recommendations that can be followed by other states and utilities.

    In addition to CVPS, the study is looking at Commonwealth Edison, Long Island Power Authority, Pecan Street Project, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Salt River Project and San Diego Gas and Electric. The final report is expected later this year.

    “This is a technology that is going to improve people’s ability to receive reliable, cost-effective and clean electric service,” said Kevin Jones, Smart Grid project leader at Vermont Law School. “This is an important business reason for CVPS to do this and we found what they are doing to be both very consistent with what other utilities are doing across the country.”

    Jones has worn a number of industry hats over the years, including a stint with CVPS in the 1990s and as director of energy policy for New York City.

    While the report gives CVPS high marks for outreach, the report takes note that how that translates into benefits to customers could be more problematic.

    “The effort required to educate 160,000 customers, and train them to manage their energy consumption for maximum benefit, poses a substantial challenge,” the report said. “However, early and ongoing customer education will help CVPS integrate new smart grid equipment as seamlessly as possible by creating customer acceptance.”

    Once implemented, a CVPS customer will be able to check their electric usage either online, on an in-home digital display, or over the phone. In the future, the utility will offer time-of-use rate options. The smart grid technology also will allow CVPS to integrate electric vehicle recharging.

    While the initial report focuses on the successful strategy CVPS is using to deploy what it calls SmartPower, the largest capital project in its history, the study only briefly addresses health and privacy concerns raised by opponents of wireless smart meters.

    “While we didn’t get into an analysis into the actual impacts of the meters, we did look at CV’s policy compared to other ones (utilities) in terms of dealing with that and CV offers a very simple and streamlined opt out policy, that through a phone call, allows any customer to opt out,” Jones said. “We feel that is an appropriate policy response for dealing with the individual concerns.”

    However, if the Public Service Board gives its approval, a CVPS and Green Mountain Power customer could wind up paying $10 a month to opt out.

    Smart meters eliminate the need for meter readers and Jones said either the individual, who opts out, bears the cost of having their meter read manually, or the cost has to be borne by all ratepayers, which is the current practice.

    The state Health Department recently released its own study and found the wireless meters, which emit electromagnetic radiation, posed no health risk.

    The report drew criticism from Vermonters for A Clean Environment. Annette Smith, the group’s executive director, said the public wasn’t sufficiently made aware of the project until late in the process.

    “This is a very big and expensive plan coming down from government on the federal and state levels, well discussed in committee, regulatory and board rooms,” Smith said in an email. “Only now is the general public being engaged, when technicians are knocking on doors to install a new transmitting device on your house. Public acceptance would have benefited from engaging the public before the technology decision was made.”

    She also said there is evidence to suggest that there is a real health risk from the cumulative impact of wireless devices.

    CVPS is beginning to install the new meters. The report said the plan is to install 2,200 meters each week until all meters are replaced by the end of the year.

    Customers in the Rutland area began receiving postcards notifying them that they can expect a subcontractor to install the advanced digital meters in two weeks. A notation on the front of the postcard reminds customers they can opt out by calling CVPS at (800) 649-2877.

    On the issue of privacy and security of customer data transmitted by the wireless meters, Jones said the study recommended that given the specific or “granular” data that wireless meters collect, more needs to be done to ensure customer privacy.

    “Each of our hourly use over time certainly has marketing and other attractions to a variety of individuals, so having transparent policy in place, where customers know what is being done with their data and that it’s being protected, we think is very important to ensure the success of the smart grid,” Jones said. “I think that’s the direction that CVPS is moving in and they certainly understand this concern and are committed to protecting their customers’ privacy.”

    CVPS will spend an estimated $63 million on its SmartPower project, including the installation of 180,000 wireless meters.

    A $69 million federal grant awarded to the state’s 20 utilities will pay for half the estimated $140 million cost of smart grid deployment.

    Statewide, approximately 300,000 smart meters will be installed, representing 85 percent of all electric customers.

    The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that nationwide smart electric grid will cost $1.3 trillion to $2 trillion, with benefits likely to surpass three times that amount.

    The report said that not to be underestimated are the environmental benefits.

    “Research from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has estimated that with full implementation of a smart electric grid by 2030 U.S. energy consumption and carbon emissions could be reduced by 12 percent.”

    bruce.edwards@ rutlandherald.com

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