Customer benefits debated in push for $2.6 billion "smart grid"

By Jeff Engelhardt
Updated 4/11/2011 6:08 PM

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'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's pilot program showed customers saved between 10 and 15 percent in 2009 and 2010 compared to the normal ComEd flat rates.

"Giving customers -- regardless of age or income -- access to dynamic pricing options and information about how they are using electricity gives customers control," Jensen said.

Consumer advocates agree the electric grid needs upgrading but said ComEd'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's rate increases every year, those hikes should be tied to customer-friendly incentives.

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"Their incentive right now is to watch the meter spin faster," 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's fully implemented.

The House committee is scheduled to hold one more hearing before the plan goes to a vote.