PUC approves scaled-down ‘smart meter’ plan from RI Energy
Smart meters that allow people to monitor their energy usage in real time – and help the utility company track and fix outages faster – are coming to Rhode Island under a plan approved by utility regulators on Wednesday.
The Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission’s 3–0 vote authorizes Rhode Island Energy to move ahead with an 11-year plan to overhaul the outdated power grid, replacing more than half a million electric meters in customers’ homes and businesses. The caveat: The utility company can’t spend quite as much as it originally proposed.
As part of its approval, the PUC capped Rhode Island Energy’s spending on the plan at $153 million – an 18.6% cut over the $188 million cost initially put forth.
The spending cap comes in part from disputed estimates of the value the new technology will bring.
Rhode Island Energy said the project will bring $729 million in value to customers over the next 20 years, touting the return-on-investment as more than three times what it planned to spend – and charge to customers. But the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers in separate analysis warned that the company may have overestimated the cost-savings from faster outage notification, energy usage reduction and other factors, suggesting a return-on-investment of $266 million.
The Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General in a separate filing also recommended capping company spending, including a shorter-term limit on implementation spending in addition to the long-term maximum.
The PUC’s decision leaves it up to Rhode Island Energy to decide whether to move ahead with the plan.
Ted Kresse, a spokesperson for Rhode Island Energy, said in an emailed statement on Thursday that the company was pleased with the PUC approval, reiterating executives’ prior statements about the benefits of the upgrade for improving service and saving customers money, especially because nearly one-third of the meters are so old they will need to be replaced soon anyway.
“We have put together a thoughtful, enduring proposal that we anticipate will result in minimal bill impacts to our customers,” Kresse said. “We look forward to sharing more about the benefits of this new technology with customers in the months ahead and when they can expect to see them rolled out in late 2024 and 2025.”
The original, $188 million plan would have tacked on 7 cents each month to customers’ average monthly electric bills for the next five years, according to calculations by Rhode Island Energy. The company now estimates customers’ “total cumulative bill impact” will vary from less than $1 a month to $4 monthly at the “peak of deployment schedule,” according to a statement.
The new meters will be rolled out beginning in late 2024, the company said.
Updated to include response from Rhode Island Energy.