September 17, 2013
American Electric Power wants to add “smart meters” to 900,000 houses and businesses in Ohio, up from 110,000 that were part of a test project that included parts of central Ohio.
The Columbus-based utility is asking regulators for permission to do so, charging customers about $2 a month to cover the cost, about $290 million.
With the meters, customers will have easier access to their electricity usage data, and the utility will be instantly notified if power fails. If approved, AEP’s would be one of the largest “ smart grid” projects in the country.
The additional households would be found in AEP’s Ohio service territory, including almost all of Columbus and its suburbs, Athens, Bucyrus, Canton, Chillicothe, Findlay and Steubenville, among others. A block-by-block map of the project area is not yet available.
“These proven technologies provide customers with more accurate information to view their energy consumption, improved billing accuracy and enhanced reliability,” Pablo Vegas, president and chief operating officer of AEP Ohio, said in a statement.
“AEP Ohio has learned from recent significant weather events like the 2012 derecho and superstorm Sandy that modernization of the distribution grid can help pinpoint damage more accurately, and ultimately support faster restoration times during future weather events.”
The PUCO will review the application during the next few months. AEP would like to begin installing the new system early next year, and the company expects the work to take about four years.
“This is not a sprint, but a marathon,” AEP spokeswoman Terri Flora said in a conference call with reporters.
The new meters and the 110,000 already in place would add up to more than 1 million. That includes about two-thirds of AEP’s customers in the state.
With this project, AEP would be one of only a few utilities to have deployed more than 1 million of the meters. The largest are Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, both in California, which have 5 million meters each, GreenTech Media said.
“In general, there is tremendous potential around smart grid,” said Nolan Moser, director of energy and air programs for the Ohio Environmental Council. “It allows for a more dynamic distribution and transmission system.”
As the grid becomes more sophisticated, he sees an opportunity for increased use of renewable energy and less emphasis on big power plants.
“That’s good, and it’s democratizing energy in Ohio,” he said.
At the same time, privacy advocates have raised concerns about the implications of having two-way electronic communication with the utility.
Consumers who do not want a new meter can opt out of the project, but they might face a small additional charge to cover the cost of an in-person meter reading, AEP has said.