‘Smart thermostats’ central to DP&L grid modernization, advocates say

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(Handout/TNS)

Smart thermostats are a key part of Dayton Power & Light’s plan to modernize its power distribution grid, according to a new brief filed with the state by the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Ohio Environmental Council.

“Smart” thermostats are touted as being able to sense when a home is occupied. They are said to have abilities similar to programmable thermostats, but with greater control offered by sensors and WiFi connectivity, permitting changes from a smart phone or a laptop.

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

Such thermostats help customers control demand and bills, according to advocates, but as proposed in DP&L’s modernization plan, would cost up to $450,000 a year, according to new testimony.

According to a “stipulation” filed with state regulators last October, DP&L will pay $450,000 annually “to offer marketing, administration, and rebates/incentives for smart thermostats.”

“Smart thermostats are central to the company’s grid modernization plan,” says a brief filed by the environmental groups late last week with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). “They allow customers to reduce their demand at peak, making the grid more flexible and reducing costs over the long term. Importantly, when coupled with time-of-use rates, smart thermostats will help customers benefit from the company’s proposed $77 million advanced metering infrastructure deployment.”

In response to questions Monday, a DP&L spokeswoman said the proposal is not “yet fully detailed and defined.  While DP&L had a program previously, this proposal will involve a collaborative process of working together to define, implement, and report on the progress.”

For weeks, PUCO has been taking testimony about a DP&L plan to build “smart grid” technology — technology that backers say would allow more precise communication and control between DP&L and its customers.

“The smart grid investments they are making are significant,” Matt Schilling, a spokesman for the PUCO, told the Dayton Daily News in December. “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,” DP&L spokeswoman Mary Ann Kabel said in December.

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 a settlement.

Dayton city government, Honda, the University of Dayton, the Kroger Co. and others have indicated support for the plan.

DP&L proposes to spend up to $267.6 million on grid modernization in the first phase of the overall project.

The Ohio Consumers Counsel has taken issue with the proposal, stating that “[s]mart thermostats are unrelated to DP&L’s obligation to provide efficient, safe, reliable, nondiscriminatory and reasonably priced retail electric service.”

The office has also said “captive DP&L electric customers should not be required to subsidize the costs for smart thermostats for other customers who may have an interest in smart thermostats.”

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.

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