EDITOR’S NOTE: Commonwealth Edison has presented the Illinois General Assembly with a proposed overhaul of the utility compact that represents one of the boldest bids in the nation to update the utility business model. It would lead to greater energy efficiency, deployment of microgrids and community solar projects and accelerate the build out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure while shifting away from volumetric rates. The Energy Times asked Fidel Marquez, ComEd senior vice president, to outline the utility plan.
Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison, the nation’s fourth largest electric utility, is seeking state legislative support for new energy policy that supports the growth of clean, distributed generation while ensuring the costs are fairly allocated and benefits are equitably distributed among customers at all income levels.
ComEd’s “Future Energy Plan” would advance several important and widely supported objectives: more energy efficiency, greater usage of renewable energy, enhanced security, fairer allocation of costs, and a power grid that’s safer and even more reliable than it is today. Leveraging smart meter technology is central to several major initiatives that would take effect in 2018, when ComEd’s meter deployment will be completed.
The plan provides for new energy efficiency solutions to build upon the success of ComEd efficiency programs which have saved customers $1 billion in energy costs and eliminated 16.5 billion pounds of carbon emissions.
The legislation would allow utilities to invest in voltage optimization, a smart grid-enabled technology that allows for precise monitoring and control of the energy delivered to homes and businesses. This reduces unnecessary energy consumption, lowering usage for some customers and benefitting all customers by decreasing energy losses system wide. ComEd estimates that through voltage optimization, it can save enough electricity to power 200,000 homes. The plan also provides for additional investment in energy savings programs provided the additional programs pass a strict cost-effectiveness test.
Leveraging smart meter technology is also central to ComEd’s plan to broaden access to solar energy. Through smart grid-enabled community solar projects, the utility will provide customers the opportunity to access solar power without having to invest in a full rooftop system.
The legislation places a priority on ensuring reliability and security and would enable ComEd to invest $300 million in six microgrid pilot projects. They would serve public facilities and infrastructure that are integral to healthcare, homeland security, transportation and water treatment – well-timed investments, given the rise of extreme weather and security threats.
Importantly, the plan proposes a shift to a demand-based rate structure for delivery service to allow for new uses of the grid while ensuring that related costs are borne by those who benefit from services. Also enabled by smart meters, demand-based rates make it possible for residential customers to more easily monitor and reduce both their demand on the system and energy consumption – just as commercial and industrial customers have been able to do for decades.
Since ComEd’s Smart Grid program began in 2012, investments have prevented more than 3.3 million customer interruptions. Reliability is in the top 10 percent among other utilities, outage restoration has improved by 30 percent and resulting customer savings have reached more than $175 million. Through its Future Energy Plan, ComEd plans to build on these successes to create the next wave of value and innovation for all utility customers on its grid.
Fidel Marquez is Commonwealth Edison senior vice president of governmental and external affairs