Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Governor Quinn, ComEd, and those Crazy Smart Meters.




Congratulations ComEd! You’re getting your smart meters!  It only took what? 2 years?  I started educating myself last November, so I’m a bit of a novice and sometimes a slow learner.  If you’re following anything about energy policy, Illinois politics, and the ICC, you have heard something about ComEd and their battle with Governor Quinn over smart meters.

It’s been hard to get past the politics of this and understand the true issues here.  I’m not sure I even understand them yet but this is what I know.  A law was written and passed by Springfield authorizing ComEd to start installing smart meters and bill customers to pay for them.  Illinois Citizens Utility Board and Governor Quinn was against the idea.  Governor Quinn vetoed it.  The legislature overrode the Governor’s veto.

From there the battle went to the ICC.  It was argued and as I understand it on a technicality the ICC would not authorize the rate increase for consumers.  Last year legislature passed a resolution, but as I understand it, resolutions are about meaningless. They are not bills and passage does not make it a law. 

To correct the matter, this spring, the legislature passed a new and better written bill to authorize smart meters.  Governor Quinn vetoed it again and this week the General Assembly and Senate both overrode Governor Quinn’s veto again.  ComEd is getting their smart meters.

So what’s the big deal?  Why the grudge with Governor Quinn and smart meters?

What the heck are smart meters?

I do not have ComEd as an electricity supplier.  I have Cornbelt Electric Cooperative.   As a “cooperative” Cornbelt is not regulated by the Illinois Commerce Commission like ComEd.  Cornbelt has had smart meters for years. 

There are several advantages to a smart meter for me.  A couple years ago I was looking into energy consumption.  My cousin was leaving a diesel truck plugged in 24/7.  He wasn’t paying the bill.  I called Cornbelt hoping they could help me review the bills and see how much of an increase was attributed to December, January and February to the truck block heater being plugged in.  I was amazed Cornbelt could tell me to the hour when the truck was plugged in and when it was unplugged.  They emailed the information to me instantly. 

Just this last month I learned I can now view my energy consumption online.  Cornbelt shows my consumption with a 24 hour lag time.  I can now track my usage, see my conservation in dang near real time.   The only thing better would be for me to see my consumption from my smart meter to my smart phone.  When I get an app for that, I’ll be happy.

Smart meters also allows the electric company to see consumption in real time.  There is a clear advantage to this information.  ComEd wouldn’t have to over buy and match supply with demand.   The potential benefit here for the ratepayer is huge.  Like the old saying goes, “Corporations don’t pay taxes.  People do.”   ComEd doesn’t pay for excess supply purchases.  In the end, ratepayers pay for excesses.  Wastage at the electric companies are paid by the consumers.  Corporations don’t just eat these costs.  It is eventually figured into the cost of doing business.   The closer ComEd can keep its energy purchases to the consumption, the more efficient and competitive the company will be. 

Smart meters also promote Distributed Generation and Demand Response.  Distributed Generation is basically consumers having their own solar panels and excess energy produced can be sold back to ComEd.  Again, with dumb meters, it’s much harder for energy companies to guess production by consumers.  Smart meters can give instant real time information therefore the company is more able to plan its energy needs.  Demand Response is allowing consumers to know the current price of energy and manage their own consumption to use more energy when prices are lower (at night) or decide if they really want to run the air conditioner when prices are high.   

Finally, with smart meters there is constant communication.  The company knows much quicker when there is a power outage and the severity.  Response can be faster.  Yes.  Smart meters do give consumers more choice and control over their energy use.

So why is Illinois CUB and Governor Quinn against ratepayers paying for this advanced meter?  Who knows?  Maybe CUB exists for one reason, to oppose ComEd at every issue.  CUB and Governor Quinn have made a nice living opposing ComEd and blaming everything on the company                           .  Chicago is littered with other social organizations, politicians and sons of politicians who have made a living bashing, raising funds and extorting fund to make a living. 
I love this statement from a Crain’s Chicago Business article;

The governor said in a statement that “Today’s unfortunate vote forces electric utility rate hikes on families and businesses all across Illinois. 

“I am disappointed that the General Assembly did not protect consumers from overreaching by utility monopolies like ComEd and Ameren,” his statement continued. 

Governor Quinn lack of logic here is crazy.  He opposes ComEd ratepayers from paying for smart meters but has no problem with Cornbelt Energy customers paying for the same meter.  Governor Quinn claims to be against high energy prices are hollow when he supports high priced wind energy.  Smart meters do promote energy efficiency.  Smart meters do reduce demand. Perhaps Governor Quinn’s objection to smart meters is more rooted in opposition to consumer generation of energy.  Consumer generation or distributed generation of solar energy is becoming the biggest threat to big wind energy and wind industry’s political lobby. 

Again, why does Governor Quinn have no problems with Illinois consumers paying excessive amounts for wind energy at over $55 per megawatt hour when the cash price is between $30-35?  Why did Governor Quinn demand the Illinois Power Agency sign 20 power purchasing Agreements at the high prices for wind energy?  Who protects consumers from Governor Quinn?  Why doesn’t CUB protest these high energy prices for wind energy?    

I'm sure the issue is much more complicated than how I described it, but I haven't found anyone to describe this drama between the Governor and ComEd any better. I guess I really have a hard time believing Governor Quinn is really attempting to protect consumers from high energy prices with smart meters. Sometimes it can be difficult to suspend my ability of disbelief.  

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