Department of Public Utilities Approves Commonwealth's First Utility Company Smart Grid Program
Required by the Green Communities Act, NSTAR pilot will enable 2,800 customers in Newton, Hopkinton, and Jamaica Plain to monitor and reduce energy use and costs through smart grid technology
"By allowing consumers to manage their energy use, smart grid technologies allow consumers to save money while reducing the environmental impact of our energy system," DPU Chairman Paul Hibbard said. "I look forward to seeing the results of NSTAR's pilot project as it is rolled out in Newton, Hopkinton, and Jamaica Plain in the weeks ahead."
A smart grid electricity network uses two-way communications, in-home technologies, advanced sensors and other IT technologies to protect the environment by reducing energy use during peak hours - a time when the highest cost, and some of the most polluting, power plants fire up to meet demand - and by facilitating the connection of renewable power sources such as wind and solar to the electric grid.
The DPU also announced that it will form a collaborative team to examine the smart grid pilot projects of all four of the state's investor-owned utility companies and ensure that there is consistency across programs that will enable the DPU to evaluate approaches and standards on a statewide basis. The collaborative effort will include a broad range of stakeholders, including representatives of each investor-owned utility (NSTAR, National Grid, Western Massachusetts Electric Company, and Unitil), as well as other interested parties such as the Office of the Attorney General.
NSTAR's $16 million pilot project, which is expected to begin almost immediately and run through 2012, is funded half by ratepayer charges and half by federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants from the US Department of Energy (DOE). The specific funding sources are DOE's Smart Grid Investment Grant Program and Smart Grid Demonstration Program Funding Opportunity.
Under the DPU-approved Dynamic Pricing project, NSTAR will provide residential customers in the three communities with programmable thermostats and smart grid in-home technologies that will enable customers to monitor energy consumption and costs, and reduce electric load during high-price peak power use periods. NSTAR will use web-based technology to send signals to customers in the pilot communities informing them of the underlying cost of electricity they are using, especially during high-cost peak periods.
In addition, the DPU's order authorizes NSTAR to install smart grid technologies in its underground distribution network in Boston's Back Bay to better understand the impact installation of renewable power would have on the company's power grid. This Urban Grid aspect of the project is also expected to begin shortly and finish by the end of 2012.
The DPU expects to act on smart grid proposals submitted by the other three investor-owned utilities in coming weeks.
To view the department's order, click here.