This week, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC or Commission) launched NextGrid, an initiative to explore the utility of the future. It will be an 18-month statewide collaborative aimed at transforming Illinois’ energy landscape and economy. The study will focus on finding new technologies, utility business models and regulatory strategies to transform the state’s grid into a more flexible and efficient resource. NextGrid will be managed by the Commission. An independent third-party facilitator will assist the Commission in engaging electric utilities, communities and stakeholders such as industry, academia, ratepayer advocates and environmental advocates as they examine the following areas:

  1. Consumers, Communities and Economic Development
  2. Grid Design, Digital Networks and Markets 
  3. Regulation and Encouraging Innovation
  4. Climate Change and the Environment

Anne Pramaggiore, ComEd President and CEO, addressed this development:

“We commend the Commission for taking a leadership role in establishing a forum for designing the future-oriented business model and joining ComEd’s effort to maximize the smart grid and deliver new value to customers. We see NextGrid as an opportunity to find common ground on critical issues facing our industry and as a driver of the clean, lean, ultra-resilient energy future our customers want.”

All members of the energy stakeholder community are encouraged and invited to provide input and suggestions regarding the selection of a facilitator and topics to be considered as a part of NextGrid by filing comments in response to the Resolution by April 30, 2017. Comments can be emailed to nextgrid@icc.illinois.gov

Got plans for the summer? Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dartmouth College, Cornell University, the University of California at Davis and Washington State University are addressing the challenge of how to protect the nation’s power grid by improving the way the power grid infrastructure is built, making it more secure, reliable and safe. Together, these institutions make up The Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid (TCIPG) Center, a Department of Energy-funded project, with support from the Department of Homeland Security. TCIPG is hosting its third summer school for utility and industry practitioners, researchers and students to attend and explore the nexus between electrical energy systems and cybersecurity on June 17-21, 2013, at the Q Center in St. Charles, Illinois.

The program is designed to provide an essential background in the basics of security and resiliency for cyber infrastructure in power and smart grids. Participants will also gain an understanding of the smarter energy system evolving from the power grid, as well as associated cybersecurity challenges. An optional hands-on training lab for SCADA security assessment, as well as many other topics will be explored, including:

  • Smart Grid Vulnerabilities
  • Secure Network Architecture for Control Systems
  • Security Testing, Assessment and Validation of Devices in Utility Environments
  • Security-aware Modeling and Simulation of Grid Systems
  • Renewables and Resiliency in Microgrids
  • Military Microgrids and SPIDERS Implementation
  • Approaches and Challenges in Vehicle-to-Grid Systems
  • Advanced Techniques for Security Assessment
  • Security Testing Framework for Utilities

This detailed agenda provides more information on the summer school.

In the past, customer education typically meant nothing more than a bill insert and perhaps an additional public notice. Then came the smart grid and suddenly more is required… much more. Ameren Illinois conducted a quantitative study to measure its customers’ baseline awareness about AMI. Key findings revealed:

  • 63% of customers have heard the term “smart grid.”
    Among the 63% hearing the term:
    • 40% don’t know much about what it means
    • 34% have a favorable impression
    • 29% are neutral
    • 16% have an unfavorable impression
    • 21% don’t know
  • 45% of customers have heard the term “smart meter.”
    Among the 45% hearing the term:
    • 25% of those who have heard the term don’t know much about what it means
    • 35% have a favorable impression
    • 28% are neutral
    • 23% have an unfavorable impression
    • 14% don’t know
  • 46% of all customers feel that smart meters would be “mostly an advantage,”
  • 40% seeing the meters as “having no impact,” and
  • 8% as “mostly a disadvantage.”

Customers indicated that improving reliability, bill accuracy and customer service and providing them with more control of home energy usage as the top smart meter benefits. The study will help guide the development of Ameren’s stakeholder and customer education plan. You can learn more about Ameren’s plan and ComEd’s plan by reading their Annual AMI Reports filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission on April 1, 2013. Ameren and ComEd also filed jobs creation reports as a result of the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act.

Not far from the City of Naperville, where smart meter opposition is in full force, customers in Chicago have filed a class action suit against ComEd due to smart meter delay! No, this is not a tardy April Fool’s joke. Several ComEd customers allege the Company violated an Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) order that called for smart meter installation to begin by fall 2012, yet ComEd unilaterally pushed back deployment until 2015.

To cover the Smart Grid upgrades, in 2011 ComEd filed for a formula rate increase of $1.915 billion with the ICC. When the ICC reduced that amount by $168 million, ComEd filed an Application for Rehearing (Docket No. 12-0298) to delay installation of smart meters due to financial constraints caused by the Formula Rate Order. ComEd’s original smart meter plan included the installation of 500,000 new smart meters on Chicago’s South and West sides by 2013. The suit says ComEd’s decision to not install the smart meters while the Application for Rehearing was pending cost customers about $182 million in savings and other benefits they would have received had deployment occurred according to the original schedule. (Attention utilities: This figure was taken from ComEd’s testimony regarding lost benefits due to delayed deployment.) In December of 2012, the ICC approved ComEd’s revised schedule allowing smart meter deloyment to be delayed until 2015.

The suit is an interesting change of pace from those cases around the country and even in ComEd’s own backyard (Naperville) where customers are rejecting smart meters and seeking to ban smart meter deployment. I guess ComEd customers were listening during the debate to get the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act enacted.

A recent City of Naperville (“Naperville”) smart meter case is a flashback to first year constitutional law. The Naperville Smart Meter Awareness (“NSMA”) group and several of its members, citing numerous health, safety, security and privacy concerns over smart meters that wirelessly transmit data about electric use to Naperville, sued Naperville in the Eastern District of Illinois in a four count complaint raising the following constitutional issues regarding Naperville’s deployment of smart meters:

  1. Federal rights under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978
  2. Fourteenth Amendment due process rights
  3. Fourteenth Amendment unreasonable search
  4. Fifth Amendment government taking

Judge John Lee in a 24 page Memorandum Opinion and Order granted the City of Naperville’s motion to dismiss. In the opinion, Judge Lee writes that NSMA did not exhaust all state remedies for its claims and did not prove radio frequency from the meters is actually harming people. He also found the city has precautions in place to keep customer data from being disclosed without their consent and rejected the claim the city will collect personal details about customers’ lives.

Even assuming that a smart meter is technically able to measure electrical usage and load to such minute detail, and one were able to ascertain personal details about a resident’s life from such data, the mere existence of such a capability does not reasonably lead to an inference that it is actually being employed,

– Opinion, page 21.

The order provides excellent constitutional analysis on the smart meter issues that will be helpful to many utilities. However, stay tuned for part two because Judge Lee gave NSMA a big break; the group has 14 days to file an amended complaint to cure deficiencies. This may be a good but expensive decision for Naperville, since it may have to relitigate many of same issues when the amended complaint is filed.

On June 29, 2012, a major storm system known as a derecho (“deh-REY-cho”) formed and moved across Illinois through the Ohio Valley and Mid-Atlantic States. The 2012 Derecho traveled about 600 miles in about 10 hours. Approximately 4.2 million customers were without power across 11 States and the District of Columbia and restoration in some cases took 7 to 10 days. The U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE), Infrastructure Security and Energy Restoration Division (ISER) publishes situation reports during energy emergencies and analyses of past energy emergency events to provide information to Federal, State, and local governments as well as the public. Due to the unique nature of this storm compared to traditional summer seasonal storms and the extent of physical damage caused, ISER developed a handy report to assess whether the restoration period from the 2012 Derecho was consistent with other major storms and, if not, what caused the differences in restoration times.

Released in August, the report is full of useful data. Exhibit 3 below highlights the impact of the 2012 Derecho storm.

Ultimately the ISER report concludes the 2012 Derecho was a unique storm due to its unforeseen intensity, area of impact, and post-storm conditions. As a result power restoration lagged compared to other major storms, including Hurricanes Ike and Irene.

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.