I attended the community town hall meeting on Smart Grid technology, hosted by State Representative Bob Pritchard, held Tuesday, October 11th at the DeKalb County Farm Bureau as did at least 50 other interested people. From 6-7pm, the lobby was a buzz with demonstrations by the various companies invited by Rep. Pritchard, to educate the public about Smart Grid Technology.
At 7pm, the speakers included what I thought was a very well rounded group of presenters including Ross Hemphill, ComEd Vice President of Regulatory Strategies; David Kolata, Executive Director, Citizens Utility Board (CUB); K.C. Poulus, Sustainability Manager at Village of Oak Park, in charge of part of ComEd’s pilot project on smart meters; Anne McKibbin, Center for Neighborhood Technology and Randy Gucwa, S&C Electric Company, developer of the Smart Grid Meters.
The benefits described by all the speakers certainly convinced me of the need to upgrade our system. Our electricity system in Illinois is very old and I have personal experience with how electricity is being more effectively delivered in other parts of the country. In Mesa, Arizona, electric customers pre-pay their electric with a top up card. That card is inserted in a box in the customer’s home, that tells them how much electricity they are consuming in real time. Customers, armed with better data, can and do significantly reduce their electricity bills with this information. As an example, data shows that right now, 10% of residential consumption in Illinois is a result of ‘phantom power’, power being drawn from electric devices that are plugged in but not being used. Customers in the pilot program quickly learned to unplug electric devices when not in use and consequently brought their bills down.
Consumer savings from the Smart Grid Technology system was three times more than the cost of installation (in the pilot program). Customers will not need to call ComEd when their power goes off because they will already know. The Smart Grid can be self healing, finding it’s own solutions to problems. Having a faster fix for electric down times will benefit the consumer, eliminating down time and the need to throw out spoiled food. The Smart Grid technology also has the potential to help Illinois with economic development in this time where it is currently losing many businesses.
The cost for this $1.1 billion dollar investment is said to average 2 1/2 – 3% of residential customer’s current electricity bill. The average cost on the residential customer’s bill will be $3 per month for ten years. But, remember, customers in the pilot program saved three times that much by changing their electricity consumption patterns with the data provided.
Information about the actual legislation proposed was glaringly missing from yesterday’s presentation. AARP was present and passed out flyers describing why they are against the current legislation. Weakened reliability and consumer protections, annual rate hikes and higher utility profits are among their concerns.
Governor Pat Quinn’s office was quoted in their flyers as saying, “With energy prices dropping, the Governor strongly believes there is a way to attract new investment to modernize our electric grid, while protecting consumers and creating jobs.” Even John Rowe, CEO of ComEd’s parent Exelon Corp. voiced doubts in a recent speech saying, “Illinois legislators served up what can only be described as ComEd’s dream come true. What company wouldn’t love to have a law guaranteeing it double-digit returns.”
Calling the Smart Grid technology “the energy equivalent to the internet” in terms of how it will change our lives, CUB Executive Director David Kolata said that CUB is cautiously optimistic about Smart Grid Technology but sees problems in the legislation that is currently proposed. Knowing that the bill was written by Commonwealth Edison should raise flags to anyone watching closely.
I agree with others who say fix the bill and bring it back. Illinois needs to upgrade it’s infrastructure including it’s electric. Illinois needs jobs and viable businesses to get back on the right track. Efficient electricity usage benefits all of us. It was said that the cost of creating one new coal or nuclear plant would be much greater than the cost of installing the entire Smart Grid system. Let’s not let this drop because the bill was written by ComEd. I also disagree with the idea that this bill is better than nothing. Legislators, please fix it and bring it back.