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BGE to begin smart meter installation in May

Utility to send information letters to customers on Monday

March 18, 2012|By Hanah Cho, The Baltimore Sun

In 2013, BGE will roll out other features, including a new pricing plan that would allow customers to reduce electricity usage during peak times, such as hot summer afternoons, in exchange for a bill credit. BGE already offers something similar through its optional PeakRewards program, but on a much smaller scale.

Consumers can expect to receive postcards about two weeks prior to installation. Those with indoor meters can schedule an appointment.

At the peak of deployment, the utility expects to install 80,000 meters a month or 4,000 a day, said Michael Butts, director of BGE's smart grid project.

Throughout the three-year effort, BGE officials said they'll continue to keep customers informed of new features through mailings, social media and advertising.

"We knew going into this … that the long-term success of the program will be driven by customer education and communication," said Robert Gould, a BGE vice president and spokesman who's spearheading the outreach campaign. "That's why we invested countless hours benchmarking other utilities before us: what went right and what went wrong."

Part of the process involves convincing consumers that their data is secure, their privacy is protected and the new meters are safe. The utility also has created a Web page and other materials to address those concerns.

Safety concerns stem from the radio waves the devices will emit. However, BGE explained, they transmit fewer radio waves than some common household appliances, such as a wireless router or a microwave. BGE expects smart meters to transmit for an average of two minutes a day.

BGE has established cybersecurity plans and taken measures to protect the usage data it will collect, including hiring hackers to find weaknesses in its system.

Regarding usage information, BGE officials say the utility will only know how much energy is being used in a household — contrary to misconceptions that the company will be able to determine the personal habits of its customers.

Paula M. Carmody of the Office of People's Counsel said Maryland has the benefit of learning from other states that have deployed smart meters, such as California, where there was a "huge backlash" from customers.

"The California situation pointed to concerns that people had about data privacy issues, and this is something that has been a real concern to us," she said. "The important point is all the information that the utility will be getting is fully protected, secured and utilities will not release the information without upfront consumer permission."

States like California and Maine have adopted rules allowing customers to opt out, but those ratepayers are required to pay monthly fees, along with a one-time payment, Carmody said.

BGE would support a "fair and balanced" opt-out policy, Case said.

"We really think at the end of the day, as we do a good job of educating customers and addressing their concerns, most are going to say, 'absolutely, I want a smart meter,'" he said.



Smart meters

What: BGE will begin installing 2 million smart meters that will help customers track energy usage and save money.

When: The deployment begins in May in Pasadena and will continue in stages. Installation is scheduled to end in December 2014. You could find the installation schedule at bge.com/smartgrid.

How: BGE has hired a company called Grid One Solutions to install the new electric meters and upgrade old gas ones. Customers will be notified prior to the installation.

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