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Rising Power Prices: The Metering Industry's Big Break?
San Diego Gas & Electric turns vendor heads with its plan to install real-time meters, but the company could face heat from regulators.
This is a landmark event ," says Bill Rush, a physicist at the Gas Technology Institute, and a gas industry expert on electric utility metering systems.
"We now have a very large order for real-time metering equipment that is compliant with industry standards. This plan, and the vendor interest we've seenit's the first clear sign that people in the industry are actually willing to buy this stuff."
Rush was talking about the request for proposals (RFPs) sent out in mid-August by San Diego Gas & Electric Co., asking vendors for bids on the $25 million first phase of its multi-year plan to install real-time (hourly interval) energy meters throughout its service territory. On Sept. 1, as this issue was going to press, SDG&E reportedly was meeting with vendors, answering questions about its RFP and explaining details about equipment specifications and compliance with industry standards. Only a month earlier, in the heat of the summer and under severe political pressure, the utility had outlined its metering plan to the California Public Utilities Commission.
In its application filed on July 31 , SDG&E had touted interval meters as one way to counter the "unprecedented" price spikes that had rained down like a plague on its electricity customers this past summer. (In fact, SDG&E filed its plan just six days after the San Diego City Council had passed a resolution urging the state PUC to support statewide real-time metering as a way to lower electricity prices.) Under the plan, the utility would spend $25 million to install real-time meters by the start of next summer for all of its 22,000 customers (2 percent of meter accounts, 46 percent of system peak load) with peak demand levels equal to or greater than 20 kilowatts. Meter installations would begin a year later for Phase II, involving residential and other small-volume customers with electric loads less than 20 kilowatts. (PUC rules already require all customers above 50 kW to have real-time meters if they choose direct access from a competitive energy supplier other than the distribution utility.)
Yet not everyone was happy with the plan. Steve Linsey, a policy analyst at the PUC's Office of Ratepayer Advocates, and the project coordinator for SDG&E's meter proposal, warned that his office would be filing a protest against the plan on Sept. 7.
"We haven't totally figured out what we're going to say," said Linsey, when interviewed on Sept. 1, "but there are several areas of concern. First, should all customers between 20 kW even have real-time meters? Second, should SDG&E as a utility be the designated installer, provider, and procurer of those meters?
"Offhand," explained Linsey, "It would seem that if the PUC decides that customers between 20-50 kW should have [an hourly interval] meter, then it should be up to the customers to decide who to get it from."
Linsey's concern stems from the fact that in California, the PUC has deregulated metering and billing,