concord journal
Voters approve of Smart Grid

By Patrick Ball/Staff Writer
Wed Apr 29, 2009

Concord - Town Meeting on Monday voted in favor of the Concord Municipal Light Plant’s plan to deploy a Smart Grid, making Concord among the first communities in New England to enter the age of intelligent technology.

The passage of Article 20 by a 200 to 55 vote authorizes the town treasurer, with approval of the selectmen, to borrow by issuance of bonds or notes $4.5 million to be repaid from Light Plant revenues to design, purchase and install the Smart Grid system. The motion was amended such that the Light Plant will provide an annual report on two key financial aspect of the Smart Grid for the first 10 years of its existence.

“I was very pleased to see it happen,” Light Board Chairman Arthur Fulman said. “It says a lot about the people of Concord. They’re willing to put some faith and trust in their Light Plant operation and we try to do what we can for the community being proactive and thinking long term and strategically, and they supported it. It’s not easy to understand, there are some new concepts and it takes a while for people to understand the new field.”

According to a Light Board presentation, Smart Grid is an “open, multi-vendor digital infrastructure for managing electric power networks from generation to distribution to consumer,” featuring advanced sensors and controls at the Light Plant, on transformers and in the home.

The Light Plant will use Smart Grid to better manage peak demand, improve monitoring and supervisory control of Concord’s electric grid and help users improve energy conservation and usage through Smart devices and remote control of central air conditioning.

The presentation breaks down the $4.5 million deployment cost: Construction and labor will constitute $2.1 million, materials and systems will run another $1.75 million, engineering services will be $150,000, replacing QEI equipment is a $200,000 expenditure, and the last $300,000 will be for contingency.

Heath’s Bridge Road resident David Allen, who amended the motion, said Smart Grid was an important, yet expensive step and a developing technology. The amendment “puts Town Meeting in its appropriate role in instigating the flow of information,” Allen said.
Fulman said the Light Board supports Allen’s amendment.
Discussion on the floor

Concerns about Smart Grid articulated Monday included Concord being on the cutting edge of technology, whether waiting a while would be better and how Smart Grid will impact the residents who are already energy-efficient.

The Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee and Concord Comprehensive Sustainable Energy Committee all endorsed Article 20. Selectman Stanly Black said of the Smart Grid, “new tools preclude short-term fixes and prepare for the future.”

Brister’s Hill Road resident Patty Hecht said she has read quite a bit about Smart Grid and supports the technology, but has questions about whether rollout plans include surveillance and Smart Grid’s susceptibility to terrorists.

“While I don’t believe Concord would be the target of a terrorist attack, we should be aware that someone could tunnel in and shut it down,” Hecht said.

Mike Wevrick of Devens Road asked about the benefit for homeowners who already have programmable thermostats and are otherwise conscious of energy efficiency. “We don’t need a Smart Grid for conservation-based rates,” he said.

“I’m kind of uncomfortable being on the cutting edge of technology,” said Judy LaRocca of Oak Road. “I want to make sure the town’s not going to be a beta testing site.”

Heath’s Bridge Road resident Mark Miles, a former engineer with Hewlett Packard, said intelligent technology is not new and is “rather analogous to the Internet” in the sense that it has been around the business community for a while before being rolled out to residential areas.

Fulman said, “We will be an early adopter but not the very first,” and that Massachusetts communities Chicopee, Marblehead and Westfield are also discussing deploying Smart Grid.

Buying into Smart Grid is purely optional, Fulman said, adding that the Light Plant will provide Smart thermostats and other devices, but customers will be responsible for the wiring. Those who buy in will benefit from a new rate structure designed so electricity conservers will get lower rates.

concord journal

Town considers Smart Grid

By Patrick Ball/Staff Writer
Wed Feb 25, 2009

Concord - The Light Board is looking to get Smart.

Article 20 on the Town Meeting warrant will seek a $4.5 million bond authorization to deploy Smart Grid, a fiber optic infrastructure that would connect to the town’s 1,600 transformers.

Proponents of the proposal say Smart Grid would let the Light Plant manage and monitor peak demand more efficiently — a move that would help cut or stabilize energy consumption town-wide.

“We’re in the front side of the curve,” Light Board Chairman Art Fulman said recently about the town’s interest in Smart Grid technology, which has been getting national attention from its inclusion in President Obama’s speeches on energy efficiency. “It’s emerging technology. …We’re going to have what’s known as an open platform so that we can use whatever technology is available.”

Using digital technology to deliver electricity, the Light Plant can monitor the energy usage of consumers who choose to use the system. In return, customers receive a discounted rate for the power they use at off-peak times.

Town Manager Chris Whelan said the Smart Grid would make it easier for Light Plant operators to identify an issue in a power line without making a trip to the site of the problem. Down the road, he said the infrastructure could be set up to provide broadband and television to homes, Whelan said.

Briefing the Board of Selectmen Feb. 9 about the Smart Grid technology, Fulman described Smart Grid as “a core addition to the infrastructure in Concord, and in particular, to the Municipal Light Plant operations.”

In a follow-up interview, Fulman said Smart Grid would help the Light Plant control spikes in demand for power, thereby reducing the total cost of power and delaying the need for substation expansion, which could cost in the tens of millions.

The Light Plant pays for power based on peak demand during each year. Peak demand is based on the greatest amount of energy the Light Plant must supply to all its customers at a given time, and is typically the hottest day of the year. Currently, peak demand is about 42,000 kilowatts and the town’s capacity is to provide 50,000 kilowatts. Once electricity usage hits 50,000 kilowatts, the town will have to purchase another transformer.

“The timeliness is that, if we have to put one of these transformers in without doing anything now to reduce demand, we’re looking at starting that planning process in two or three years,” Fulman said. “The sooner we get that demand down we can defer that cost. Each megawatt that we can save in current dollars represents about $120,000.”

The cost of deploying Smart Grid would be repaid through increasing electricity rates by about one-quarter of a cent per kilowatt-hour, according to numbers presented by the Light Board, which assume a 15-year bond at 4.5 percent. The median residential bill, based on a monthly consumption of about 650 kilowatt-hours, would have $1.94 tacked on each month.

Fulman said the rate increases would only pay for the laying of the fiber optic network and that the effectiveness of Smart Grid would ultimately hinge on consumers’ behavior patterns, specifically their willingness to take advantage of the demand shifting.

Ratepayers who choose to buy into the Smart Grid would need to install Smart Thermostats and other equipment that would connect wirelessly to the transformers, Fulman said.

Light Plant Superintendent Dan Sack said at the selectmen’s meeting last month that the ZigBee technology used to connect the homes to transformers would not create significant interference to other applications in the home.

Fulman said the Light Plant typically subsidizes these types of energy-efficient technology purchases.

“The benefit to people who don’t buy in right away will not be on reduced rates, but the Light Plant will be operating more efficiently, and it will slow the increase of rates on a yearly basis,” Fulman said. “For the people who buy into it, they will be the beneficiaries of reduced rates. We haven’t set all those rates, because we haven’t developed the parameters.”

Concurrent with the Smart Grid, the Light Board and Light Plant are exploring a “time of use billing” system that would look at when power is used, in addition to how much power is used. It costs the Light Plant more money to deploy power at peak times, which typically are from 4 to 7 p.m.