When Senate Bill 17 was signed into law by California lawmakers in October 2009, the three large investor-owned utilities in the state were happy to comply, but felt that they had already started to address many of the topics required by the legislation.

SB 17 called for smart grid deployment plans: essentially, these are 10-year roadmaps that outline the vision, deployment baseline, grid and cyber security strategy, smart grid strategy, and cost and benefit estimates and metrics for each utility.

“We said, ‘We already have a plan,’” said Lee Krevat, Director of Smart Grid for San Diego Gas & Electric, “but we wouldn’t say that now.”

Krevat and his counterparts at Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison will be discussing these deployment plans, which are due to the California Public Utilities Commission by July 1, at the upcoming Networked Grid conference, slated for May 3-4 in San Francisco.

The legislators called not only for plans that were more detailed in some aspects than what the utilities had already drafted, but also for other stakeholders to be brought to the table early on.

“I think we greatly improved the projects we previously had on the roadmap,” said Krevat. “They became deeper and more complete with multiple perspectives.”

The three utilities also collaborated in more formal working groups, so many issues -- especially security strategies -- should be similar. Mike Montoya, Director of Engineering Advancement for Southern California Edison, said that not only were they looking at ways for California utilities to meet their RPS goals through smart grid initiatives, they also looked beyond their own borders to what other states in the region are doing. “That collaboration will help us tremendously moving forward,” he said.

Kevin Dasso, Senior Director for Smart Grid at PG&E, agreed that there will be more similarities than differences, especially around standards, but also expected to see some differences in pilots and the plans for the future. “We all believe that the smart grid is going to evolve at a pace we can’t predict,” he said. “Our deployment plans are about preparing for different futures.”

Just because the three utilities worked together, and there might not be huge surprises in the July filings, there will be some notable differences. Chris Villarreal, Regulatory Analyst at the California Public Utilities Commission and Staff Team Lead on the CPUC's Smart Grid proceeding, said that it looks like there are differences in how the utilities are breaking down the cost/benefit of their plans, and also in how aggressively they’ll buy into their own plan over the coming decade (one, apparently, seems to be less aggressively embracing its own plan compared to the two other utilities).

Even if enthusiasm and depth varies, each utility will deliver a comprehensive plan. They’re all preparing for meeting California’s aggressive 33 percent RPS and incoming electric vehicles, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat (to clarify, no actual cat will be skinned as part of any smart grid pilots or during The Networked Grid). There will likely be differences in transmission upgrades and distribution automation timelines. And since everyone is essentially looking into a crystal ball when it comes to how customers will use the smart grid 10 years from now, expect the three utilities to cast a wide net. “I would describe it as laying the groundwork for those unidentified developments,” said Dasso.

Down in San Diego, Krevat was excited about having the different constituents involved early, and was also enthusiastic about keeping the conversation going with customers and other stakeholders. He echoed Villarreal’s sentiment that the scope of the projects, from technical detail to customer focus, will vary.

Although they won’t be shock-and-awe filings, the roadmaps could provide insight to how smart grid will work for utilities and customers in the coming decade far beyond California. And if you can’t wait for July, come here more about it directly from the sources at The Networked Grid.