Fresh off of an overnight flight from attending the SmartEnergy International Summit in San Francisco, my cell phone rings this morning. It’s my mother with breaking news: “Hi Linda, I am calling to let you know we are getting the smart grid!” “Really.” “Yep. They voted to override the governor. Now I know you are just getting in so we can talk more about this later, the news reports say my rates will go up. Is that true?”

I went on to explain to my mother that yes her rates will go up, but the amount is small compared to the benefits. The increase would be about $3 a month during the first year, but reliability should improve. That is an important aspect of the plan for me since I live in Pennsylvania, hundreds of miles away from my 81-year-old mother. During outages, I’m very limited in my ability to help her. (I didn’t tell her that as a regulatory attorney, her daughter often raises rates. Not a conversation I wanted to have on very little sleep.)

Illinois legislators voted to override Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of smart grid legislation, paving the way for smart grid technology in Illinois. The Senate voted 36-19 to override the bill, followed by the House, which voted 74-42 to override the bill. The Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act authorizes implementation of a 10-year, $2.6 billion investment program by ComEd to strengthen the existing electric system, while adding new digital smart technology. According to ComEd’s press release, this new law will bring the following benefits:

  • SB 1652 will put Illinois back to work with specific provisions that mandate more than 2,500 statewide jobs at the peak of the grid’s build-out. The investment also will spur job growth in construction, cable and electric equipment manufacturing and other key traditional industries.
  • A Smart Grid will improve overall system reliability, reducing outages and improving power restoration while allowing consumers to save money through a set of new Smart Grid-related efficiencies. Smart meters will help consumers save on energy costs by providing options for new pricing plans, better managing energy use and becoming eligible for new rebates by reducing power usage in peak hours.
  • It will contribute to a cleaner environment by increasing funding for energy efficiency programs and encouraging greater use of solar and wind power. Development of the Smart Grid will allow for the intelligent charging stations needed to encourage greater use of electric vehicles.
  • Under the trailer bill, ComEd will provide $50 million and Ameren will provide $10 million in programs designed to help low-income families and seniors over the 10-year program laid out in SB 1652. This overall $60 million assistance fund is in addition to $50 million already designated in SB 1652 for education outreach to all residential energy consumers.
  • The trailer bill also re-directed $200 million toward targeted “undergrounding” of overhead lines, tree-resistant overhead conductors and other storm hardening solutions to strengthen the distribution system in the wake of the historic storm season of 2011. These solutions are in addition to the inspection and replacement of residential underground cable and mainline cable programs that are also a prominent piece of SB 1652.