New DP&L testimony: ‘Smart grid’ would entail investment up to $267M

Nearly every customer would receive a “smart” power usage meter

Dayton Power & Light’s plan to install “smart grid” technology in the Dayton area would entail spending up to $267 million in capital investments in the project’s first phase, a regulatory matters manager for DP&L’s corporate owner testified Monday before Ohio regulators.

It would also create a grid that would pinpoint the reason for power outages quicker, a DP&L spokeswoman said.

In testimony filed Monday before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), Sharon Schroder, the AES U.S. services managing director of regulatory affairs for DP&L and the Indianapolis Power & Light Co., said a plan to build “smart grid” technology — technology that would permit greater and more precise communication between DP&L and its customers — would give DP&L access and new insights into a customer’s power usage.

“Implementing (a) smart grid in DP&L’s service territory will provide tremendous benefits for customers, and the value of those benefits exceeds their costs,” Schroder testified.

According to the plan, DP&L would invest $77.6 million in “smart meters,” with “nearly every customer” getting one, and would build what Schroder called a “self-healing grid,” a $109 million investment in “self-healing” technologies, including distribution automation, substation automation and advanced distribution management.

The idea behind a “self-healing” grid is to efficiently deal with power outages, minimizing blackouts.

Such technology would let DP&L “pinpoint exactly where we have to make that (power) restoration, which is huge,” DP&L spokeswoman Mary Ann Kabel said Tuesday.

With a customer’s approval, the plan would give competitive retail electric service providers access to customer usage data, so that providers can offer rates “tailored” to a customer, Schroder testified.

Schroder also testified that DP&L has agreed to “prioritize the installation of the SGP (smart grid plan) in economically disadvantaged areas of the city, many of which were struck by tornados last year.”

DP&L also envisions “significant economic development incentives and grants for hospitals and manufacturers in DP&L’s service territory, which are intended to assist those entities in responding to the financial consequences of COVID-19 and restarting Ohio’s economy,” according to the testimony.

“The costs of the incentives and grants will be borne by DP&L and not recovered from customers,” Schroder said.

She also voiced support in the testimony for “developing an energy resiliency project in or near the Wright Patterson Air Force Base.”

DP&L has agreed to “explore a joint partnership with the city of Dayton and the University of Dayton’s Hanley Sustainability Institute,” and to contribute $100,000 a year with DP&L shareholder dollars to the Property Assessed Clean Energy program (also known as “PACE”) for projects in Dayton.

“Additionally, DP&L will contribute $50,000 per year to support energy upgrades for small and micro businesses within the city that are not eligible for PACE funding,” Schroder testified.

The plan would also implement an electric vehicle rebate program, and a rebate program for “smart thermostats” which will be paid for by DP&L’s shareholders, she said.

The electric utility also wants to make a “shareholder contribution of $900,000 over two years to provide weatherization for customers at or below 200% of the federal poverty line,” with a shareholder contribution of $200,000 over four years “toward the marketing and education of residential customers about the smart thermostat rebate program.”

Further, DP&L envisions contributing $200,000 per year with DP&L shareholder dollars “to provide economic development programs and assist low-income city residents,” Schroder testified.

“The smart grid investments they are making are significant,” said Matt Schilling, a spokesman for the PUCO. “The only thing left at the PUCO is for the commissioners to issue a ruling and then DP&L can start work (assuming approval from commissioners).”

“This is a transformational for us,” Kabel said.

In October, DP&L reached a settlement on its plan to pursue smart grid technology with almost every party to the regulatory case, except for the Ohio Consumers Counsel, which did not sign the settlement.

“In the middle of the health and financial crisis, in an area where consumers are at risk from high poverty and food insecurity, DP&L has several pending cases that can result in higher electric bills and higher utility profits at consumer expense,” said J.P. Blackwood, a spokesman for the Ohio Consumers Counsel, an office which represents utility customers. “We will be making our recommendations to the PUCO, including for lower charges, and will consider appeals to the Supreme Court as may be necessary for consumer protection.”

Commissioners can accept, reject or change any utility plan based on the evidence in a case, Schilling said.

However, Kabel told the Dayton Daily News in October that the plan will mean higher rates, an increase of 94 cents for the average residential customer using 1,000 kWh (kilowatt-hours) on DP&L’s “standard service offer.”

Electricity usage is calculated in kWh, or 1,000 watts used for one hour. As one example, a 100-watt light bulb on for ten hours uses one kilowatt-hour.

“We continue to maintain the lowest residential rates of the investor-owned utilities in Ohio,” Kabel said in October.

DP&L applied in late 2018 to implement smart grid technologies across its territory. Ohio’s other electric distribution utilities have already launched similar programs, Schilling said, including AEP Ohio and Duke Energy Ohio.

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