Chicago-based utility ComEd filed plans recently with its state regulator (Illinois Commerce Commission) to deploy 4 million smart meters throughout northern Illinois over the next 10 years in a long-range bid to upgrade its system.
If approved by ICC, approximately 130,000 customers living along the Eisenhower Expressway would have the new meters installed as early as the end of summer 2012. ComEd would then install 370,000 meters in 2013 and the following year some 500,000 meters would be deployed. From that point, the utility would continue connecting new meters across its territory at that 500,000 annual clip until 2021. (The utility has already deployed more than 131,000 smart meters in a pilot project that was completed in May 2011.)
The ambitious meter deployment – one of the largest in the country – would coincide with rate increases during the coming decade that will finance $2.6 billion in overall infrastructure upgrades, which include the new meter rollout.
ComEd expects, of course, to reduce operational costs by deploying the meters, which would be read remotely and not require sending meter readers to households or commercial sites. The meters would also enable remote connect and disconnect of service, reducing the need to send a crew to a physical location for such purposes. For customers, the new meters would enable them to take part in demand-response programs that could reduce their bills.
Clearly, ComEd has a roadmap to a full smart meter deployment, and now its cards are on the table. But it needs to proceed with some caution here. According to published reports, no one will be able to opt out of the deployment – at least not yet. But if things proceed like they have in similar deployments in California and elsewhere, an opt-out program might be required. As we’ve witnessed during Pacific Gas & Electric’s smart meter deployment in California, some vocal consumers won’t have anything to do with smart meters because of health-related fears or worries about privacy invasion. And they were instrumental in getting PG&E to offer an opt-out option. So, while ComEd’s plan may appear to be unfettered at this point, the potential for consumer backlash is valid, and the utility should have alternate plans – especially if the outcry is loud enough to stir local politicians.