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ComEd aims to deploy 4 million smart meters in next decade

Updated: May 25, 2012 8:11AM

An additional 130,000 Commonwealth Edison customers who live along the Eisenhower Expressway corridor will get “smart” meters — digital meters with two-way communication — as early as late summer, allowing them to see by online connections how to change their home energy use to get rebates and other savings, ComEd officials said Monday.

Another 370,000 customers will get the meters in 2013, followed by 520,000 in 2014, and over a 10-year period, all of ComEd’s 4 million Northern Illinois customers will get them.

The first communities slated to get the smart meters outside of an existing pilot program will be in Berkeley, Brookfield, Cicero, Elmwood Park, Forest View, Franklin Park, Harwood Heights, La Grange Park, Lyons, Norridge, North Riverside, Northlake, RiverGrove, Riverside, Rosemont, Schiller Park, Stickney, Stone Park and Westchester, according to ComEd’s proposal. The next installations in 2013 call for the meters to be deployed in Maywood, South Chicago and Glenbard. The 2014 deployments would cover South Chicago, Glenbard and Mount Prospect.

Tom O’Neill, senior vice president for regulatory and energy policy and general counsel, said ComEd customers will gain greater access to how much their energy use costs, while ComEd will gain its own system improvements by being able to read people’s meters in unusual events, such as snowstorms, and preventing waste when people move out of a building and the residence goes unoccupied for months while the electricity stays on.

The Illinois Commerce Commission must first approve ComEd’s plan. An Illinois Appeals Court had killed the funding method that ComEd was using for the pilot project, ruling that ComEd couldn’t charge all of its northern Illinois customers for the expense of the pilot project, which involves 128,000 customers. New legislation passed late last year enabled the smart meter program to proceed.

The ComEd customers in the pilot program will continue to use their smart meters. The pilot project encompasses western neighborhoods in Chicago and the western suburbs of Bellwood, Berwyn, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, Maywood, Melrose Park, River Forest and Oak Park.

ComEd officials have said previously that customers could save $2.6 billion collectively in the next 20 years by using the digital technology to turn off electricity at peak times and help make the energy grid operate more efficiently.

No one will be able to opt out of the program.

ComEd officials plan to help customers understand how to use the meters, in light of customer concerns about whether the meters may compromise their privacy, their health and their safety.

A report issued Monday by a Boston-based medical-legal partnership questioned whether the poor, the elderly and other vulnerable people might be subjected to having their electricity disconnected remotely without a warning, and whether they could understand how to work the smart meters to realize cost savings.

Ross Hemphill, ComEd’s vice president of regulatory policy and strategy, said customers are required to be notified before their electricity is disconnected, and that ComEd plans to work with state regulators on how to deal with people who don’t want smart meters. The utility intends to educate as many people as possible in as many ways as possible on how to use their smart meters to generate the most savings, and even if they don’t do anything extra, they will realize savings eventually because the electrical grid will work more efficiently, he said.

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