Illinois utilities are about to have to prove their smart grid can do what it promises. For utilities ComEd and Ameren Illinois, that means cutting outages, inactive meters, estimated billing, energy theft and other money-wasters the smart grid was meant to prevent — or paying penalties out of their profits.
Those are the rules under a bill that Illinois legislators passed in a veto-proof majority last month, after a long battle over the companies’ $3.2 billion in smart grid plans. Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed a similar bill in September, saying it was “a dream come true for Commonwealth Edison, but it’s a nightmare for Illinois consumers.” The latest version is tougher as a result, though it will still allow the state’s two big utilities to add about $3 per month to customers’ bills.
To justify it, however, the utilities will have to reduce outages by 20 percent, energy theft by 50 percent and inactive meters (those delivering power to unoccupied homes) by a whopping 90 percent under the new rules. These are the kinds of efficiencies that most smart meter projects out there promise they’ll deliver, but under Illinois’ new law, they’ll now be measured for year-by-year progress against those 10-year goals.
ComEd and Ameren will also be asked to cut estimated billing by 90 percent over the next decade and eliminate bad debt and unpaid bills by $30 million, a measure of the importance of backend IT support for today’s complicated smart meter systems. Miss those goals, and the utilities will face losing a certain portion of their profits.