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Duquesne Light's smart meters given go-ahead

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By Rick Stouffer
Friday, April 16, 2010

By late 2012, Duquesne Light Co. customers will begin to see the phase-in of electric meters that will give them the ability to track fluctuating electricity prices and to adjust their energy usage accordingly.

The state Public Utility Commission on Thursday approved the utility company's smart meter plan, continuing a process first begun in 2008 with passage of state Act 129.

The law requires that Pennsylvania's electric utilities reduce customers' annual energy use by 1 percent by mid-2011, and by 3 percent by mid-2013, and that they reduce customers' peak-time hourly use by 4.5 percent by mid-2013.

Duquesne Light's 585,000 customers in Allegheny and Beaver counties will begin paying a monthly surcharge for smart meter service by June 30, but spokesman Joe Vallarian said that levy, while not yet calculated, will be small, only covering the company's Act 129 expenses until now.

"This is the start of the process. We believe we have a good plan and now we can begin implementation," Vallarian said.

Duquesne Light estimates the cost of its entire smart meter plan at $38 million.

Under Act 129, Duquesne Light and other in-state electric companies will have 30 months once their plans are approved before they must begin installing smart meters. Pilot programs will begin after the 30-month grace period, and will last for three years, Vallarian said.

All customers must have the new smart meters within 15 years, according to the Act 129 mandate.

"Smart meters give the consumer more power to determine when they want to spend their money on electricity," said PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.

Customers who want a smart meter installed within the 30-month grace period can get one, if they pay Duquesne Light $1,305, including $586 for the actual meter, and $719 for the required communications equipment.

"One concern we had with all the utilities' plans was that we felt each allocated too much of the overall cost to residential customers," said state Consumer Advocate Irwin "Sonny" Popowsky. "The PUC based its allocation on the number of customers in each class, and we don't think residents will get the bulk of the benefits of the plans."

Duquesne Lights serves about 580,000 customers in Allegheny and Beaver counties, including about 500,000 residences.

Approval of Allegheny Energy Inc.'s smart meter implementation plan for its 700,000 customers north, east and south of the Pittsburgh area, will be considered in an upcoming PUC meeting, Kocher said.

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