Anti-Meter Fever Spreads as Regulator and Customer Mistrust Grows
By: SGN Staff
Some ratepayers are going to be in for a big surprise if they think they can continue to be wasteful, especially during peak times. If these kinds of rates proliferate, they will create a huge demand for energy efficiency programs for business and residential customers. And a word of caution to utilities: Take the time to convince customers that what you're doing is a win-win. Otherwise, it won't be.
Dominion Virginia Power extends a smart meter field test before going all out with a $600 million rollout. Duke Energy scales back a $450 million rollout after getting slapped by Indiana regulators. And PG&E's smart meter program, which has been taking punches from fighting mad customers for months, will get audited courtesy of state regulators.
Take your pick: sorta bad news or bad news.
Dominion's overall plan calls for replacing all 2.4 million meters in its service area with smart meters. About 55,000 thousand meters are now being tested in two locations.
Dominion says it's still committed to a Smart Grid and that the extended test phase is intended to address any concerns about the metering project. But the State Corporation Commission (SCC), which is beginning hearings on Dominion requests to put in place up to 12 demand response programs and rate hikes to pay for them, isn't pumped about the utility's smart meter program.
"The actual benefit value realized by ratepayers will be less than the costs borne by ratepayers," Howard M. Spinner, economics and finance division director for SCC, was quoted as saying in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "The project is likely to save only 60 percent of the energy claimed by the company."
A Dominion spokeswoman said customers will help pay the cost of the smart meters, but will pay less over time.
While a Duke meter rollout in Ohio will hum along as planned, the company is cutting back a proposed Indiana Smart Grid project involving 800,000 meters and other digital equipment because regulators said it cost too much and that Duke hadn't shown that it would do customers much good.
And last but not least, beleaguered PG&E â€" which has been sued over its meter program by customers who blame the new technology for electric bill overcharges â€" is going to get audited. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is going to hire a consultant soon to conduct an independent audit of the utility's program.
While PG&E said it field tested over 1,700 meters and found no problems, that hasn't cooled off customers infuriated by the alleged overcharges and the company's tiered rate system. Under the system, rates per kilowatt-hour increase as more power is used and the customer climbs into the highest tiers. Its highest tier, 47.39 cents per kilowatt-hour, is well above Southern California Edison's highest rate of 34.25 cents per kilowatt-hour, not to mention the 11.47 cents in Austin, Texas.
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