Elmhurst residents, originally in line to have Smart Meters installed on their homes this year, now likely won't see those meters installed until 2015, a ComEd representative told Elmhurst City Council Tuesday.
Eventually, when Smart Meters are rolled out, they will replace the analog meters currently attached to homes by ComEd. They will electronically record homeowners' consumption of electricity and report that information back to the utility multiple times a day for monitoring and billing purposes. Human "meter readers" will no longer need to come to the house to determine electricity use.
Smart Meters also promise a new way to save money on electric bills by allowing customers to see and control their electricity use in real time, ComEd representatives say.
Smart Meters are not without controversy. At a Feb. 5 Naperville City Council meeting, residents filled the council chambers to protest the meters and their "forced installation." Check out that meeting here; public forum begins at 9 minutes into the video.
Smart Meters are part of ComEd's Smart Grid plan, which was set in motion in 2011 when the Illinois General Assembly approved the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act. The legislation allowed for a $2.6 billion investment by ComEd over 10 years to improve reliability by modernizing the state's entire electric grid with "Smart" technology. The program is expected to reduce outages by about 700,000 a year and save $100 million annually in spoiled food, lost production and other costs.
In addition to improving reliability and accountability, Smart Grid technology also is touted as a big job-creator, with 2,000 full time employees needed to get the project to completion.
"We're readying the grid for the demands of the 21st Century," John O'Halloran, ComEd external affairs manager, told the council. "There is a world of services available through modernizing the grid."
For example, he said, renewable energy sources like solar and wind, which are difficult to integrate into the existing system, will mesh with Smart Grid.
But Smart Grid is stalled due to a ruling by the Illinois Commerce Commission that limits the amount ComEd can charge customers to fund the program.
"We thought we had the favor of the state to do these kinds of programs, then the (ICC) knocked down the amount of revenue we could collect going forward," O'Halloran said. "We thought we had everything set up and ended up with a 20 percent reduction in funding on an annual basis."
O'Halloran said ComEd is working with the state legislature to pass Senate Bill 9, which would allow the utility to raise rates to get the Smart Grid program back on track. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Cullerton (D-23rd, Villa Park), unanimously passed a Senate Executive Committee last week. Cullerton's district includes a portion of Elmhurst.
"We hope Senate Bill 9 will pass ... in the next 30 to 90 days," O'Halloran said.
In the meantime, other work is being done in and around Elmhurst to keep the lights on, O'Halloran said. The utility has employed:
- spacer cables that allow electrical lines to withstand some tree contact
- targeted tree trimming
- burying overhead cables in some areas
- Smart Switches, "self-healing" devices that automatically restore power to customers after a wire is damaged or comes down in a storm
- trip-saver fuses, which re-open a fuse that might close due to a squirrel or tree branch
"An outage that might have taken an hour (to repair manually) ends up taking less than a minute," O'Halloran said.
Third Ward Alderman Michael Bram pressed O'Halloran regarding how much money was being spent specifically on Elmhurst repairs.
"Are we seeing more allocated to Elmhurst due to the lack of stellar ComEd performance we've had here over the past years?" Bram asked.
O'Halloran said it is difficult to measure because Elmhurst is served by many circuits, some of which serve other communities.
"It's not as easy as it sounds (to quantify)," he said, adding ComEd does work in Oak Brook that affects Elmhurst, for example. "Dollars per town are hard to nail down. We look at it in terms of our circuits, and then municipal performance."
Sixth Ward Alderman Steve Morley said this was about the third or fourth time ComEd has presented this same information on spacer cables, distribution automation and trip savers.
"One year's worth of work does not look like very much," he said. "Are we getting fewer improvements than originally were committed to? Whose call it is to remove or delay projects in Elmhurst?"
O'Halloran said he thought some of the work may have been slowed, and those decisions are made at the senior levels of the engineering team based on performance of the circuits, number and length of outages, and number of customers affected.
"That's the way we've always run our programs," O'Halloran said.
Morley said he was "disappointed that any Elmhurst projects have been delayed."
"I think we're going to have to see what we can do about that," he said.