Utility begins power study

WORCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS - Electric utility National Grid plans to closely scrutinize the energy use of some 250 customers as part of a “smart grid” pilot program it has proposed to test revolutionary grid and metering technology with 15,000 city customers over two years.

National Grid filed its proposal with the state Department of Public Utilities, and if approved, could have the program running in nine to 12 months, a spokesman said during a press conference at Clark University. In the program, customers will be able to closely monitor their energy use and lower their bills by using electricity during low-demand times. Grid operators would be able to closely monitor the system to avoid blackouts, fix problems quickly and be able to more easily integrate renewable energy sources.

National Grid’s pilot is the largest of four slated to be filed with the state this week under the state’s Green Communities Act. Others will be filed by NStar, Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and Unitil Corp.

in northern Central Massachusetts. The act, signed into law last year, requires utilities to submit proposals and develop smart grid technologies.

The program will begin with 250 customers who agree to participate heavily with National Grid, said utility spokeswoman Marcy L. Reed. These customers, referred to by National Grid as “superusers,” will be compensated $1,000 for the first year and $1,500 for the second, she said. They will be chosen by National Grid.

National Grid will go into their homes to observe how they use energy and to test appliances designed to work with a smart grid system.

“We will compensate them for it,” Ms. Reed said. “In return for that, we would like to enter their home, look at the switches, see how they have their appliances set up.

“We will look from the inside of the house at how they are using energy.”

Keith Gossage, National Grid’s director of strategy, said observing the customers inside the home will help the utility learn what pricing options will work best, and what adjustments to make in the program as it unfolds.

“We don’t know which choices will be valued,” he said of the rate options to be offered. We want to learn what choices to offer different customers… and test them in action.”

Ms. Reed said the customers involved in the pilot could save as much as 5 percent, or $70 on a typical bill, over the course of a year by cutting energy use or shifting some to low-demand times.

Clark University, which has a gas-fired electric power plant that will be tied in to the pilot, will help evaluate the findings, along with Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

If approved, the pilot will be rolled out in the northwest part of the city, including Webster Square and Tatnuck Square, and Airport Hill. It would involve 165 miles of electricity distribution lines along 540 streets. Customers’ meters will be replaced with “smart meters” that can provide data on their energy use and costs.

“Smart grid is the way of the future, and I’m glad to see National Grid proposing this pilot project for Worcester,” said Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray during the event. “If the pilot moves forward as planned, consumers will get new ways to manage their energy use and find new ways to save money.” Other speakers included Ian Bowles, state secretary of energy and environment.

National Grid’s smart grid pilot will cost approximately $57 million, if approved, and will be funded through a charge on National Grid’s Massachusetts electric customers’ bills. The company estimates the charge to be 50 cents per month on a typical residential bill during the first months of the project, with costs declining afterward.


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