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Frontlines

Some thoughts on the battle to measure electricity consumption in real time.
Fortnightly Magazine - October 1 2000

Frontlines

Meter Men?

 

 

Some thoughts on the battle to measure electricity consumption in real time.

How can something so simple as an electric meter bring governments, editors, and the utility industry to their knees?

This year I spent my Labor Day weekend on the computer and phone with meter industry experts, trying to understand why grown men cry over a seemingly innocent plan by San Diego Gas & Electric Co. to install a better class of utility meters so that electricity customers can watch the price spike hour by hour, rather than having to wait till the end of the month to learn the bad news.

You'll find some of the details inside this issue, in the article I researched on SDG&E's landmark effort to install real-time energy meters. But as often happens, events intervened to force the editor to leave some of the story on the cutting room floor. On this occasion, however, there was just enough time to pick up some of the fragments and hold them to light.

"I'm sure they will protest our plan. They believe utility shareholders should pay for any investment in real-time metering. Of course, that would kill any chance for AMR in California."

That was Ed Fong talking, on Sept. 5. He is director of revenue-cycle services (metering and billing) at SDG&E. He was anticipating a protest against his company's metering plan from the Office of Ratepayer Advocates at the California Public Utilities Commission. And a few days earlier I had heard that Steve Linsey of the ORA had promised to file just such a protest by Sept. 7.

Meanwhile, Fong was trying to do business in the real world. I asked him, "Have you met with vendors and bidders about your request for proposal?" He answered, "Yes, we had a bidders conference on Sept. 1." And was that by telephone conference call or a real face-to-face? "It was an actual physical meeting," Fong assured me. "Here in San Diego."

Fong confirmed that in the RFP, his company had expressed a "very, very strong preference" for vendors who comply with standard C12.19, otherwise known as the "Tucker Tables," as defined by the American National Standards Institute.

"And I'll tell you," he added. "If we could rewrite the RFP today, we would make that a requirement."

"So I take it that you feel the ORA's concerns are overblown because you're doing your best to promote open architecture?"

"Exactly," he replied.

"But what SDG&E decided to do was to not wait for the state to complete the process," complains Michael Jaske. "Instead, they filed this very vague application."

Jaske is known as the chief expert on utility metering among the professional staff at the California Energy Commission. He explains how regulators are still fussing about whether interval meters make sense for the typical residential customer-even those customers still taking bundled service from the distribution utility.

"In its original decision on direct access," says Jaske, "the PUC required an interval meter for all customers with demand levels above 20 kilowatts. But later," he adds, "the

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