Utility officials unfazed by rejection

Local utility officials say they aren't fazed by a decision from Maryland energy regulators who, citing unfair charges to customers, rejected a smart meter project similar to those being implemented in Burbank and Glendale.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, an investor-owned utility, had plans to install 1.2 million smart energy meters, which track customer water and electricity usage in real time. But on Monday, the Maryland Public Service Commission denied the plan to finance the $835-million project through billing surcharges.

The company had received $200 million in federal stimulus funding for the proposal — far more than Glendale and Burbank utilities, which were awarded $20 million each to fund their smart grid projects. The two cities were among just a handful across the nation to get the stimulus funding. The smart meter project in Burbank and Glendale is estimated to eventually cost more than $40 million.

"We're shocked that [the Public Service Commission] is jeopardizing the $200-million stimulus grant awarded by the Department of Energy to help pay for the initiative," Robert Gould, a spokesman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, said in a statement.

The decision sent reverberations throughout the utility and "green energy" industries, which have overwhelmingly supported the deployment of smart grid technology.

"My initial reaction was one of concern, but as I read the articles I came to find out there was a whole lot more about rate making and rate design … then there was concern about smart grid," said Ron Davis, Burbank Water and Power general manager.

While Maryland regulators took issue with the proposed customer surcharges to fund the program, neither Glendale nor Burbank has proposed any rate hikes directly related to installing the smart meters, he said.

Much of the funding is coming from capital improvement budgets and the federal stimulus money.

City officials have hailed the technology as the greatest advancement in decades and said it would ultimately encourage conservation, and in turn a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

"Internationally, that's the way our business is going," said Glendale Water & Power General Manager Glenn Steiger. "So even the BG&E issue, I consider that to be a short-term issue … ultimately it will move forward."

He was not surprised to hear of the Baltimore controversy, pointing out the investor-owned utility's rocky history with public officials there, Steiger added.

Officials have said the updated power grids would also help utilities increase their use of renewable energy sources and implement pricing models based on how much water or electricity is used.

Davis said the new meters should also save the utilities millions of dollars a year in losses previously caused by faulty meter readings.

"We'd like to find other savings from doing this to pay for as much, or all of it, so it doesn't cost consumers anything, he said.

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