Smart Grid Should Not Be Cash Cow

Investor-owned utilities’ smart grid deployment proposals for California need to reflect potential costs and benefits to ratepayers, two consumer advocacy groups told the state’s Public Utilities Commission Thursday.

Investor-owned utilities’ smart grid deployment proposals for California need to reflect potential costs and benefits to ratepayers, two consumer advocacy groups told the state’s Public Utilities Commission Thursday.

Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric’s recently submitted smart grid deployment plans were consolidated into a single plan by a PUC administrative law judge in July.

In a protest filed with the PUC, the commission’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates said IOUs do not make specific funding requests, adding that most estimated benefits are not quantified.

"When specific funding requests are made, the IOUs should include fully quantified cost benefits analysis, including rate impacts, any non-rate related customer cost impacts and a demonstration of need," DRA said.

A mechanism needs to be devised that gauges whether benefits are being achieved, DRA said.

"SDG&E’s smart grid deployment plan "was filed in response to the PUC’s request to outline our vision for the smart grid future," April Bolduc, spokeswoman for SDG&E said in an email.

SDG&E is "not requesting any funding for projects through the smart grid deployment plan. Projects already ongoing—like our approved smart meter project, dynamic pricing application and GRC projects—all have costs documented. These projects make up approximately 75 percent of our roadmap," Bolduc said.

The next steps will be to file more detailed applications for specific projects or programs once the details of the proposals are finalized. These future filings will be more specific and acosts to ratepayers, she said.

PG&E spokesperson Greg Snapper said the PUC did not request rate changes or rate increases as part of the smart grid plan, adding that the smart grid will provide many benefits, including helping customers lower their energy bills.

SoCal Ed did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Echoing DRA in a separate protest, The Utility Reform Network said the proposals "catalog a universe of smart grid-related programs and projects that the utility could pursue if it were given virtually unlimited resources."

"The PUC should require utilities to submit a less-ambitious plan that focuses on the most-economic strategies," TURN said. This approach is needed as the state’s economy "remains mired in a slump that might cause ‘engaged customers’ to instead be ‘enraged customers’ in the face of rate increases made in the name of implementing a smarter grid," warned the San Francisco-based advocacy group.

As a staunch opponent of PG&E’s efforts to deploy smart meters, TURN has highlighted PG&E customers’ complaints about health concerns related to the meters, among other issues.