Smaller co-ops remind colleagues that AMI opt outs hurt
Smart Grid Today
July 2, 2012
The threat of customer AMI opt outs in smaller co-op territories poses a significant problem that most large IOUs can simply brush off, panelists at two recent conferences said. Though Pepco CEO Joe Rigby casually cast aside the effect a handful of opt outs would have on that utility's AMI cost-benefit projections, rural co-ops cannot afford to think the same way, Jonathan Adelstein, an administrator at USDA's Rural Utilities Service, said at the UTC critical infrastructure communications policy summit held recently in Washington, DC.
Of Pepco's 300,000 customers, just four have opted out of AMI, Rigby said, calling opt out “not a significant issue.” Utilities who too strongly advocate for AMI give off a Big Brother impression and encourage resistance, he said.
“As long as it doesn't really tilt the economics of this being a good thing, I don't know that this is worth trying to demand this,” Rigby added.
Those comments did not ring true for Adelstein. “You're very fortunate in Delaware, but I've found in certain parts of the country … there's a contagion, the myth” about health concerns from RF radiation, he replied. “We need to tamp down those fears.”
The scale of those projects likely has much to do with the panelists' different views on opt outs.
Many AMI deployments use RF mesh networking, which lets radio signals bounce from node to node – in this case, smart meters – to transmit data rather than hauling everything back at once to a central nervous system. But when gaps occur in the network, such as those presented by people still on analog meters, the communications network is less effective. That requires utilities to keep employing people who can go out and check those analog meters during outages.
Those holes also reduce the overall potential derived from dynamic pricing, Lori Murphy Lee, a commissioner with the District of Columbia PSC, said during the panel. “To be able to properly recover that investment, large numbers of customers opting out is problematic,” she said. “A large base opting out would undermine this investment.”
Being upfront helps
Utilities that have offered the most information upfront have been met with the least resistance, Hank Kenchington, deputy assistant secretary for R&D with US DOE's office of electricity delivery and electric reliability, said. DOE has been analyzing troves of information regarding SGIGs in the past few weeks to get a first clear glimpse at how some deployments have fared, which DOE officials hope will help create models for other utilities to follow.
Still, much of the resistance to smart meters and their potential hazards stems from a “traveling band of people” who barnstorm across community town hall meetings when AMI appears on the docket, Orjiakor Isiogu, a commissioner with the Michigan PSC, said last week at the National Town Meeting on DR and Smart Grid in Washington. Those people are loud, organized and determined, but hardly represent the standard population, he said.
Those anti-smart meter nomads have, however, more people opting out.
For all their efforts, state PUCs have forced utilities from coast to coast to implement opt-out policies.
Ultimately, most utilities have persuaded the regulators to make opt-out customers pay a fee to cover possible losses in efficiency opting out causes. Accommodating those customers would eliminate operations and management savings associated with installing AMI by adding “significant” costs, meaning such people should bear the incremental costs, the Maryland Energy Administration, Baltimore Gas & Electric, Pepco and Delmarva Power & Light told the Maryland PSC in April (SGT, May-09).
Regulators in Maine ruled that customers who opt out should have to pay those costs when they approved opt-out plans for Central Maine Power's AMI project (SGT, Aug-10). California regulators did the same, for San Diego Gas & Electric's AMI project (SGT, Apr-20).
The Vermont Legislature in May passed a bill requiring Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) to offer customers a free smart meter opt-out choice. That bill would have a marginal impact on costs to the utility and its customers, experts and the utility said (SGT, May-15).
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