RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) – Vermont’s largest utility and the state Department of Public Service unveiled plans Friday to introduce new technology in hopes of using electricity more efficiently and responding better to outages.

Central Vermont Public Service Corp. President Robert Young said the utility plans to invest $40 million on the new technology, which will include new customer meters and a device inside homes that can give real-time readouts on power consumption and the cost of the power at different times of day.

At the same time, David O’Brien, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, announced that nearly all of Vermont’s 21 municipal, cooperative and for-profit utilities had joined a collaborative effort with the state to take similar steps.

O’Brien said the hope is that the electric industry can catch up with the digital age and deliver efficiencies both to utility customers and their customers.

“While the digital age has advanced with faster computers and handheld devices that deliver streaming video to consumers, electric customers functionally have the same electric meter on their house as they did 50 years ago,” O’Brien said.

“Our intent is to empower customers by giving them the technology to make informed decisions about their energy use,” he added. “Just as consumers are pulling up to the pump and rethinking how much they drive and what car they drive, we want ratepayers to see real time the cost of their electric use and maybe turn down the air conditioning. Today we take a critical step toward that future.”

O’Brien and other officials said they hoped the CVPS efforts would lead other utilities in Vermont and around New England to take similar steps. O’Brien said the biggest impact in reducing peak power loads in New England would come if the new technologies become widespread in more populated areas of southern New England.

“Imagine the magnitude of millions of electric consumers in southern New England responding to real-time prices and what that could mean to market prices,” he said.

At Vermont’s second-largest power company, Green Mountain Power Corp., spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said her company was a member of the collaborative and was examining what steps it should take to improve metering technology.

“We’re also in the process of studying and understanding how we should implement AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) based on our customers’ and our own needs,” Schnure said.

The idea won praise from a New England-wide environmental group that is a frequent critic of Vermont’s power companies – and the state’s regulation of them.

“We applaud this effort,” said Sandra Levine, an attorney in the Montpelier office of the Conservation Law Foundation. “It will help customers reduce energy use, save money, and reduce pollution.” She said similar efforts by power companies in California had met with success on all three fronts.

Officials said they see potential for improvements in the power grid in several ways:

– Consumers will be able to perform power-hungry household chores at off-peak times, when power is cheaper, and likely will be able to take advantage of “time-of-day” rates to reap some of the benefits for those decisions.

If the state Public Service Board adopts time-of-date rates, someone who puts a clothes dryer on a timer and runs it at 2 a.m. instead of 6 p.m. could end up seeing a discount of 25 percent or more on the electricity needed to run the machine.

– Shifting more power use to off-peak times means a power company like CVPS is less likely to have to run small, fossil-fuel-fired generators it has on standby for times of peak demand. Those types of generators are usually the most expensive and most polluting on the New England power grid, and not running them saves both money and air quality.

– Power companies can use a variety of communications technologies including fiber-optic cables and other devices to track more closely what is happening on their distribution systems. Theoretically, they could respond to power outages even before customers call to report them, as well as cutting out the traditional monthly rounds made by meter readers.

Young said CVPS now employs 40 meter readers. About 20 of those jobs are expected to be shifted over to support the new technologies; others would be phased out over time through attrition.

Young said the goals of the new program are to “improve our service restoration, expand our time-of-day rate programs, improve customer communication and knowledge about their energy use, and provide real-time rates.”


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