The California Public Utility Commission ruled on Thursday that Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric customers will receive the same opt-out smart meter program as their neighbors to the north in Pacific Gas & Electric’s territory.
Although the utilities lobbied for the ‘radio off’ option, where the wireless radio inside of digital smart meters would be turned off, they instead received the pricier option of giving customers an analog meter.
The cost to those who choose to opt out is not insignificant. Customers will have to pay $75 upfront and $10 monthly for an analog meter. Low-income customers will pay $10 upfront and $5 per month. A radio-off meter did not meet the concerns of opponents, and a hard-wired meter was seen as too expensive. The difference in cost between putting analog meters back in versus turning the radio off was $416 versus $402, respectively.
However, final costs could change after a second phase that will come later this year, in which the CPUC will evaluate the opt-out rates and also consider allowing entire communities to opt out.
Even after the phase two of this proceeding, opting out will continue to be evaluated, especially as the benefits of smart meters become tangible down the road. “At a minimum, this opt-out option should be re-evaluated once default TOU pricing is employed for all residential customers,” the CPUC said in the ruling.
For all of the California utilities, and most utilities, the rates of declining meters is turning out to be far lower than originally anticipated. Pacific Gas & Electric had more than 92,000 customers request that their smart meter installation be delayed, but so far about 15,000 of those have picked the analog smart meter. As of early April, only about one-third of the people on the PG&E delay list had even responded to the utility once the analog meter option was finalized. In Maine, the earliest state to have a comprehensive opt-out plan, uptake was also lower than anticipated.
Besides meters, the CPUC also ruled on Wednesday regarding metrics to track the smart grid projects of the state’s three largest utilities. Every year, SDG&E, PG&E and SoCal Edison will have to have report on 19 metrics, including:
- Number of smart meter malfunctions where customer electric service is disrupted;
- Number of utility-owned smart meters supporting consumer devices with home area network (HAN) or comparable consumer energy monitoring or measurement devices registered with the utility;
- Number of escalated customer complaints related to the accuracy, functioning, or installation of smart meters or the functioning of a utility-administered HAN with registered consumer devices;
- Number of utility-owned smart meters replaced annually before the end of their expected useful life;
- Number and percentage of customers with smart meters using a utility-administered internet or a web-based portal to access energy usage information or to enroll in utility energy information programs;
- Number of customers enrolled in time-variant electric vehicle tariffs;
- System-wide and total number of minutes per year of sustained outage per customer served;
- Total annual electricity deliveries from customer-owned or operated, grid-connected distributed generation facilities; and,
- Total megawatt and megawatt-hours of grid connected energy storage at the transmission and distribution system.
The annual reporting will not just create a transparency across the investment, but will also provide an incentive for the utilities to ensure that customers large and small are using the technology to their benefit.
“The metrics we approved today will measure the extent and effectiveness of smart grid investments made by utilities and will help ensure that stakeholders are moving in a common policy direction,” Michael Peevey, president of the CPUC, said in a statement.
Quantifying and verifying the return on investment is becoming a priority for many utilities beyond California. In Michigan, the Court of Appeals recently said that the state’s Public Service Commission wrongly approved DTE Energy’s $37 million smart meter plan, according to news reports. The Maryland PSC will now revisit the rate hike and report by the end of June.
In Illinois, ComEd and Ameren Illinois will also have to prove that their smart grid plans can deliver, which means reducing outages, cutting energy theft and turning off inactive meters. If they don’t meet year-over-year goals, the utilities will have to pay penalties out of their profits.
Illinois was among the first to tie penalties to not meeting smart grid goals, but as data is delivered from DOE-funded smart grid projects starting this year, expect reporting and metrics to proliferate for utilities that request rate increases to cover smart grid costs.