Customer benefits debated in push for $2.6 billion “smart grid”

SPRINGFIELD — Utility officials and consumer advocacy groups sparred Monday over the consumer benefits of a ComEd plan to spend $2.6 billion upgrading the state’s electric grid.A power grid overhaul being debated by lawmakers would mean a $3-per-month increase on an average customer#146;s power bill, but ComEd officials told a House committee Monday that their smart-meter pilot program showed the savings could outweigh the cost.Val Jensen, vice president for marketing and environmental programs at ComEd, said because smart-meters give customers access to the real-time changes of electricity prices, they are able to adjust their electricity consumption habits to maximize savings. The company#146;s pilot program showed customers saved between 10 and 15 percent in 2009 and 2010 compared to the normal ComEd flat rates.#147;Giving customers #8212; regardless of age or income #8212; access to dynamic pricing options and information about how they are using electricity gives customers control,#148; Jensen said.Consumer advocates agree the electric grid needs upgrading but said ComEd#146;s plan leaves the state without enough control over future rate hikes.ComEd predicts their plan will cost average customers about $3 per month more on their power bills. Bryan McDaniel, senior policy analyst for the Citizens Utility Board, said that while state regulators will review ComEd#146;s rate increases every year, those hikes should be tied to customer-friendly incentives.#147;Their incentive right now is to watch the meter spin faster,#148; McDaniel said. ComEd estimates the smart grid would eliminate 550,000 service interruptions per year, saving $700 million over the 10-year period and $87 million annually after it#146;s fully implemented. The House committee is scheduled to hold one more hearing before the plan goes to a vote.