The Illinois Commerce Commission voted on Friday to approve Commonwealth Edison’s smart grid plans; however, the commission also voted to rehear arguments on the rate that ComEd wants to charge to finance the projects.
Initially, ComEd had figured about $40 million to $50 million in cost reductions, but last month, the ICC told ComEd it had to quadruple the rate cut to about $146 million.
Many of the costs included in that figure have nothing to do with smart grid or its planned four million smart meters, and instead are related to pensions and other business costs that are not part of infrastructure improvements.
ComEd’s $2.6 billion smart grid plan already won approval from the Illinois legislature, so the question is not about whether the utility will move forward with smart meter and grid upgrades, but how much money it will be allowed to recover. The commission also wouldn’t grant ComEd a stay in the smart meter deployment timetable, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
ComEd may still have to work out some details, but it is many steps ahead of its neighboring utility, Ameren, which saw its smart grid plan rejected last month. The ICC said it is asking Ameren for more information about how the technology would benefit customers before it allows it to proceed. The ICC's concerns are in line with many of the concerns posted in the Attorney General’s filing a few weeks ago, the regulator said in a statement.
The state Attorney General has asked questions on assumed savings including "truck rolls," or the number of onsite work crews that need to be dispatched to fix grid problems or deal with customers. The catch is, there's a rule on the books that people have to be contacted in person “at the time the service is being discontinued” when they’re being disconnected for nonpayment.
At stake is a $300 million investment in Ameren’s grid over the next decade, including distribution automation and smart meters. Although ComEd’s plan was approved, the AARP has filed complaints about ComEd’s remote disconnect also, saying in a filing that it wasn’t to ensure that the utility still has an “on-site contact and premise visit” before disconnect, which is currently mandated by the ICC.
In Illinois, smart grid has had a hard road so far, as the state’s two largest utilities have been repeatedly chastised for not spelling out the benefits to customers well enough.
The issue seemed settled at the end of last year, when the state ordered that Ameren and Commonwealth Edison will have to reduce outages by 20 percent, energy theft by 50 percent, and inactive meters (those delivering power to unoccupied homes) by 90 percent under the new rules.
“More and more utilities, are going to have to meet the expectations they set for themselves, and we’ll see more of that in future rate case filings,” said Zack Pollock, smart grid analyst with GTM Research.
Illinois utilities have to prove the benefits upfront, but they’re not alone. California utilities have the most robust smart grid metric reporting to-date. All three investor-owned utilities in the state have to show progress on various projects, from consumer access to energy information to distribution automation.