ComEd Rate Hike 2011: Smart is a Subjective Term

Yesterday, Phil and I attended a press conference that Mayor Rahm Emanuel held with ComEd’s president, Anne Pramaggiore, related to hiring that will take place as a result of the smart grid initiatives. If you recall from our previous blogs, a ComEd rate hike will phase in this year, intended to cover the costs associated with modernizing the grid in Illinois.

Pardon the complete lack of segue, but for whatever reason, I have this strong inclination to depict politicians in black and white (the irony of which is not lost on me). The shadows and darkness inherent in black and white photos can be evocative of scandal and illicit behavior, an effect that is all too often absent in color images. Well yesterday, I felt a bit like Weegee at the crime scene, as ComEd and Rahm went head to head with the press on various energy-related topics. So, to celebrate that sentiment, I’ve decided that going forward all of the photos we post that feature government officials will be black and white. Fitting, don’t you think? I do live in Chicago, after all — can you really blame me? (No offense to Rahm – he just happens to be the first photo-worthy politician I’ve encountered during my rather brief tenure at Power2Switch. He hasn’t had enough time to get into too much trouble, yet.)

Back on point…  so there was talk of over 2,400 jobs being created in Illinois over the next ten years, in addition to the $1.3 billion being spent on upgrading the electric system, which involves replacing thousands of miles of cable and poles and enhancing substations and other equipment. Another $1.3 billion will be spent on the installation of smart meters in homes and for the distribution automation devices that will serve to re-route power during outages and the like.

So, ah… what the heck does this all mean? (I feel like I say this a lot in this industry!) The whole point is to make it easier for ComEd to access customers’ electricity usage data, so they can pinpoint outages quickly and respond more concisely. (Evidently, the current system of identifying outages is pretty archaic. Really?? We had NO idea!) It will also eliminate the need for a meter reader to lurk around your house each month to report your usage, which is required for non-estimated billing. (Of course, there was conveniently no mention yesterday of the number of meter readers whose jobs will fall victim to this new age of supposed digital enlightenment.)

The smart meter benefits for customers are positioned as making it easier for customers to understand and monitor their own usage. Ok. So we can save ourselves money by using less energy, since we know how much we’re using in real-time. With smart meters, we can also see how much electricity costs at different points of the day, allowing us to alter our consumption accordingly to save money during peak use times. That’s going to require us to either actively monitor our own usage and be mindful of turning off lights and appliances when demand is particularly high — OR — ComEd can do it for us. Hmm. Not sure how I feel about giving ComEd the ability to adjust (read: limit) my electricity consumption. Kind of reminds me of my last apartment, which was the first floor of a house built in 1896. (Yes, the century before last.) Every time I used my hair dryer, I would blow a fuse if anyone so much as looked at the toaster or microwave. Feels a bit like we’re moving backwards, from a customer’s perspective. At least before I could go flip a switch to turn my hair dryer back on when the fuse blew. I’m pretty sure we won’t be able to do that with ComEd. Time will tell how all these smarts pan out. At the very least, I just hope that ComEd will pass on to customers some of the savings they garner from the installation of smart meters. Some people say I can be pretty naïve, however.

Tangentially, what was particularly compelling to me yesterday was the ability of the press to completely derail the objective of the press conference to suit their purposes. Topics covered aside from the smart grid were the abbreviated schedule of 2012’s Taste of Chicago, the proposed ward redistricting, Mitt Romney’s Republican nomination, and Obama’s re-election chances. They were posing some difficult questions (particularly on the latter topic), but I have to say, Rahm sure doesn’t let anyone push him around — including ComEd. There was talk of holding ComEd’s “feet to the fire” when the going gets tough, which it undoubtedly will. He articulated it himself quite well: “I don’t think anybody’s ever said Rahm is a very quiet, meek person.” We shall see, Rahm. We’ll be watching and waiting.

Editor’s note: Yes, I realize it’s 2012, though the rate hike technically began in 2011. So, until I have time to make a new graphic, it will remain ComEd Rate Hike 2011.




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