Infrastructure

La Grange, Ill., Modernizes the Electric Grid with Smart Meters

Nearly 7,000 meters represent an important building block of the electric utility’s smart grid program.

by Annemarie Mannion, Pioneer Press Newspapers, Suburban Chicago, Ill. / June 15, 2016

(TNS) — Commonwealth Edison will install smart meters at houses and businesses throughout La Grange starting in July.

Residents will have the option to refuse the devices, but they will have to pay a monthly charge.

Digital meters, which have prompted opposition elsewhere, allow customers to view the amount of energy being consumed and to try to reduce it. The meters also send out radio frequencies to ComEd about power outages and the amount of electricity that customers use each month.

The overall program to install the devices and otherwise modernize the system started in 2011 when the Illinois General Assembly enacted the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act, providing $2.6 billion over 10 years to ComEd to modernize its electric grid. The act provides for the replacement of 4 million existing electrical meters in all homes and businesses in northern Illinois with new, digital, smart technology.

"The smart meters are an important building block of the smart grid program," said Annette Martinez, a ComEd spokesperson.

The number of devices that will be installed in La Grange is 6,984. The majority will be replaced over a two-month period.

Martinez said modernizing the system should allow ComEd to identify and resolve power outages more quickly because the meters will communicate to ComEd when an outage occurs. Customers will no longer have to call the company.

"We'll have a better idea of where an outage is automatically," Martinez said.

Customers with smart meters will be able to take advantage of a variety of programs to reduce their energy costs and manage their use. Some programs include letting users opt to lower their usage during peak times or to sign up to receive a text or email when their usage is too high.

The cost of all smart grid improvements for residential customers is about $3 per month. Smart meters will comprise about $2 of the monthly cost. ComEd officials say they will fully pass on to customers the operational savings that result from smart meters which, over the next 20 years, are expected to be twice the cost of smart meters.

Residents of some other communities, most prominently Naperville, have opposed digital meters. Some foes have cited concerns that meters emit radio frequencies that can cause cancer.

"Our smart meters are safe," Martinez said. "They've been extensively tested."

Martinez noted that ComEd didn't install the meters in Naperville. ComEd's meters are certified by Underwriter's Laboratories as safe and reliable, according to the company.

Martinez said the improvements made to the smart grid since 2011 have resulted in a reduction in power outages throughout the system. One improvement allows power to be rerouted to where in the system an outage occurs.

"We've avoided nearly 5 million customer outages since 2011," she said.

Residents can refuse a smart meter. They will have to pay a monthly fee of $21.53, according to a ruling in 2014 by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

"That meter then has to be read manually," said Andrianna Peterson, assistant village manager for La Grange. "Obviously the customer also doesn't get the benefits that the smart meter is meant for."

She said the village has not received any calls from residents with concerns about smart meters.

©2016 Pioneer Press Newspapers (Suburban Chicago, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.