Smart meters don't count as 'renewable'

For all the tens of millions of dollars being spent in Burbank and Glendale for new smart-meter grids, the added efficiencies won’t directly affect state mandates for renewable energy, officials say.

In Glendale, the tab for new smart meters — which provide customers with real-time tracking for energy use — is $70 million. In Burbank, that cost will be roughly $60 million. The two cities found themselves at the forefront of the national movement when they received a $20-million federal grant to help fund the massive infrastructure projects.

But as the municipal utilities in each city work to attain state renewable energy mandates, they won’t be able to count on their new smart meters for help, even though they are expected to assist greatly with conservation.

Amy Morgan, spokeswoman for the California Energy Commission, said smart meters do not count toward a utility’s renewable energy goal. Incremental benchmarks are driving utilities to have 33% of the energy come from renewable sources — such as solar, wind, geothermal — by the year 2020.

Final installations for residential customers in Burbank could be completed by the end of October, with the remaining commercial customers getting their meters by the end of the year, officials said. Burbank Water and Power has about 50,000 residential and commercial customers, and the entire project could be wrapped up by the end of January, said General Manager Ron Davis.

Perhaps the biggest benefit is that smart meters will allow customers to know when electricity is cheaper, usually in the evenings and at night, and offer customers a choice of when to run their appliances.

“With time-of-use rates, the customer can make choices, and now residents [will be able to] do this with new technology,” Davis said. “They can choose to use power when power is cheap.”

For more than a decade, the utility has wanted to automate meter reading, Davis said, noting that the current electric meters are more than 50 years old.

Most large customers are already able to monitor their electricity use. Residential and small commercial customers were the last piece of the puzzle, Davis added.

While the smart meters won’t directly contribute to the renewable energy portfolio standard, officials said they will indirectly help in making customers more aware of clean energy.

“Ultimately, a smarter grid allows [customers] to take better advantage of renewable energy and is part of a cleaner, more efficient and more reliable future,” said Joanne Fletcher, assistant general manager customer service and marketing at Burbank Water and Power.

Glendale looks to wind power, landfill gas, hydropower and solar energy sources as a way to increase its use of renewable energy, but the smart meters don’t hurt, officials said.

“It helps us,” said Glendale Water & Power General Manager Glenn Steiger. “But in and of itself, it doesn’t count as part of our renewable energy portfolio.”

Much of the renewable energy for Glendale comes from out-of-state projects that the city has invested in, including wind turbines in Washington. Local sources of renewable energy include Scholl Canyon Landfill, which for years has been a source of methane gas, contributing 6% to its renewable energy portfolio.

Brittany Levine contributed to this report.

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