The basic structure of the nation’s electric grid, a system of cables, switches, and transformers through which electric power is distributed, has changed little over the past decades. Power companies in many states have begun to upgrade, and Massachusetts utility officials have ordered that the state’s electric service providers develop upgrade plans.
Representatives of Cape Light Compact (CLC), an energy-service organization made up of 21 Cape and Island towns, visited West Tisbury Monday to tell Island officials that a proposed infrastructure upgrade by Eversource, the eastern Massachusetts electric service provider and the largest provider in the state, could be a lot smarter.
Speaking at a public forum Monday afternoon at the West Tisbury library,
CLC power supply planner Austin Brandt said the Eversource plan could be more efficient and would save more energy if it included more comprehensive use of “smart meters,” similar to a plan submitted by the state’s second-largest energy service provider, National Grid, and plans already implemented in other states.
Mr. Brandt said smart meters installed at the user’s home would allow for the collection of more time-sensitive data that would facilitate an off-peak billing system, giving customers the informed option to use more power during off-peak hours when the cost of electricity is less. He said that this would have the effect of reducing peak-use loads, reducing the need for larger and more expensive transmission systems.
The Eversource upgrade plan is a response to a 2014 order from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) that asked each electric distribution company to develop and implement a 10-year grid modernization plan that would allow customers to better manage and reduce electricity costs; enhance the reliability and resiliency of electricity service in the face of increasingly extreme weather; encourage innovation and investment in new technology and infrastructure; and address climate change and clean energy requirements.
Mr. Brandt said that he thought that without a focus on smart metering, the Eversource plan falls short of meeting the state’s requirements.
According to a state report, the Eversource plan has an annual investment ranging from $67 million to $120 million over a five-year period. The cost will be paid by utility customers, and the average bill impact for a typical residential customer is estimated to be between 20 and 40 cents a month.
National Grid estimates its investment will be $225 million to $830 million over five years, and could add between 0.25 percent and 1 percent to a typical residential customer’s monthly electric bill, every year for five years.
CLC administrator Maggie Downey told the gathering, “We will as ratepayers pay for all elements of this. We want to, one, make sure that we understand what we are paying for, and two: Is there something they are doing that we don’t want to pay for, or something that’s not included that we feel strongly about that we do want to pay for?”
Consideration of the current proposals is currently on a DPU administrative hold, and although the DPU’s public comment period ended in April, input from local residents will help guide CLC’s involvement in the regulatory review of Eversource’s plan when they take it up again, she said.
More detailed information on the proposal can be found on the CLC website, and CLC encourages the public to complete a survey to aid them in determining the community’s needs, at capelightcompact.org/advocacy/smartgrid/.
There were 17 people in attendance at the meeting, mostly town officials, people concerned with renewable energy, and representatives from local building trades. Eversource was not represented at the meeting.