Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

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Dec 16 2009

Councilmember Harrell Calls for a Smart Grid

This afternoon (12/16/09), I issued a press release calling for a Smart Grid. Below is a post with more information.

System would save people money, modernize City Light’s basic infrastructure and increase reliability and conservation

SEATTLE – In an effort to position City Light on the cutting edge of customer service, Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell has directed the Utility to develop a specific plan for the development of a Smart Grid in 2010. “I want a plan that puts the Full Council and the Executive in a position to make a funding decision for Smart Grid deployment by the middle of 2010,” says Councilmember Harrell. A Smart Grid basically adds two-way communication technology to the existing electrical grid where power and information can flow between the utility and the customer to create a system that operates more efficiently and reliably. It will also result in giving customers more control over their power consumption.

Seattle City Light and the University of Washington are already developing a “smart micro grid project” on the Seattle Campus with federal grant money, intended to draw attention to the consumer benefits of a smart grid. “It is my goal for the whole city to embrace an investment in a Smart Grid system and it starts with educating people and businesses on its consumer benefits,” says Councilmember Harrell. In Baltimore, a smart grid pilot project reduced residential energy consumption by 26 to 37 percent and averaged more than $100 in savings over three months and reduced energy consumption during peak periods by about a third. The program was given a 93 percent satisfaction rating by participating residential customers. In 2005, a $3 billion smart grid system was completed in Italy producing $750 million a year in savings to the Utility and delivered more reliable service at lower costs. Council President Richard Conlin states, “I think the people and businesses of Seattle would realize major benefits from the conservation and savings potential of a Smart Grid.” Councilmember Nick Licata states, “We need to look strongly at the costs and benefits of a Smart Grid such that Seattle remains at the forefront of innovation and efficiency.”

City Light is conducting a cost-benefit analysis and estimates total project costs for 15 years to be $321 million. The analysis suggests the Utility could realize $175.8 million in operational benefits over 15 years. A selected pilot project in Seattle may assist in testing customer acceptance of smart meters and variable pricing. Savings will come in the form of reduced meter reading expense, reduced energy theft and uncollected accounts. Additional benefits include faster detection of network failures and knowing what streetlights have failed before customers complain about these conditions. While costs for a Smart Grid are being studied, a modest rate increase may allow City Light to build such a system. Over the same 15 years, customers can benefit $129 million in the form of a reduced carbon footprint and increased reliability.

Councilmember Harrell adds that, “We have to view our power system as an investment. A Smart Grid positions us to use smart thermostats and smart appliances to conserve energy more efficiently and it further positions us for differential pricing for emerging products such as plug-in electric vehicles.”

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