3,000 test BGE 'smart meters'

Customers are using devices that monitor usage, detect outages

July 22, 2008|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,Sun reporter

More than 3,000 utility customers in Baltimore and Westminster are participating in a test of advanced electric meters that could save them money and reduce energy usage during times of peak demand, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. said yesterday.

The so-called "smart meters" were installed as part of efforts to promote conservation and reduce stress on the regional power grid. The pilot program was approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission last year and is similar to programs proposed by other utilities.

Advanced Metering Infrastructure, or "smart meters," allows a utility to remotely track a customer's electric usage hourly. The readings are captured through a secure radio signal and fed into BGE computers. Currently, meters are read by meter readers, who must drive into neighborhoods to capture the signal as they travel down the street.

The new meters will make it easier for BGE to pinpoint power outages and make repairs. It will also allow BGE to offer customers new pricing options, such as time-of-use programs that reward those who reduce energy use at times of peak demand. Lowering peak demand, such as on hot summer afternoons, could reduce the need for new power plants.

Smart meters are one component of a portfolio of programs BGE and other Maryland utilities have proposed to help customers lower costs. Other examples include smart thermostats and load control switches that allow utilities to cycle residential air conditioners on and off during times of peak demand. Customers who participate get rebates, or credits, on their bills.

The initiatives also are billed as a way to get the state closer to meeting its goal of reducing per capita electricity consumption 15 percent by 2015. BGE has said it hopes to win approval to install smart meters in every home in its territory. Critics worry about the cost of such a plan, which could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Advocates counter that customers will more than make up the cost through lower utility bills.

The pilot program runs from July to November. The utility hopes to win approval to begin installing the meters systemwide beginning in 2009. BGE is Maryland's largest utility with 1.1 million customers.

paul.adams@baltsun.com

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