Could smart meters be smarter? ComEd critics say yes

Could smart meters be smarter? ComEd critics say yes

Commonwealth Edison calls smart meters a way to give households greater control over their power usage and costs.

But now that ComEd has installed more than 1 million of the gadgets in homes and businesses throughout the Chicago area, the utility is resisting efforts to require it to offer common money-saving rate options that smart meters make possible.

Consumer advocate Citizens Utility Board, along with the Environmental Defense Fund, have petitioned state utility regulators to look at requiring ComEd to offer rate options allowing households to shift more of their energy consumption to low-demand hours of the day and pay lower, off-peak prices as a reward.

These "time of use" productsfor example, free energy on Saturdays or off-peak prices for nighttime energy usehave become more common in other markets as smart meters have taken hold. Smart meters, which give ComEd minute-by-minute information on customers' power usage, make such offers possible. But they've been slow to take off here.

Commonwealth Edison calls smart meters a way to give households greater control over their power usage and costs.

But now that ComEd has installed more than 1 million of the gadgets in homes and businesses throughout the Chicago area, the utility is resisting efforts to require it to offer common money-saving rate options that smart meters make possible.

Consumer advocate Citizens Utility Board, along with the Environmental Defense Fund, have petitioned state utility regulators to look at requiring ComEd to offer rate options allowing households to shift more of their energy consumption to low-demand hours of the day and pay lower, off-peak prices as a reward.

These "time of use" productsfor example, free energy on Saturdays or off-peak prices for nighttime energy usehave become more common in other markets as smart meters have taken hold. Smart meters, which give ComEd minute-by-minute information on customers' power usage, make such offers possible. But they've been slow to take off here.

ComEd has moved for the Illinois Commerce Commission to dismiss CUB and EDF's petition. The utility argues that it offers other rate options that give customers similar opportunities and that it's moving to remove impediments to time-of-use offerings by competing suppliers.

But ComEd also seems to argue in filings before the ICC that the commission doesn't have the authority to order it to offer such options itself. If anything like that emerges, it will be at ComEd's time of choosing.

"ComEd does not currently offer the petitioner's version of a TOU supply service, and cannot be ordered to establish one," the utility stated in an April 10 ICC filing.

That, CUB believes, flies in the face of the spirit of the 2011 smart-grid law that allowed ComEd to substantially raise Chicago-area delivery rates via a formula that greatly constrains ICC review in order to finance $2.6 billion worth of grid upgrades, including the smart-meter installations.

"We need to maximize the value from the smart grid and part of doing that is offering more utility rate options for consumers," CUB Executive Director David Kolata said in an email. "When you break down ComEd's legal argument, it is essentially claiming that the ICC lacks jurisdiction over maximizing the value from smart grid investment, and we find this troubling and counter to the clear policy goals outlined in the law."

Source: Crain's Chicago Business

SMART GRID Bulletin March 2017


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