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D.C. agency files petition to delay Pepco smart meter installation

By Danielle Douglas
Capital Business
Monday, September 27, 2010; 9:12 PM

The Office of the People's Counsel for the District filed a petition with the D.C. Public Service Commission on Monday seeking to delay Pepco's citywide installation of "smart meters" until the utility does more to educate consumers about the program.

Pepco began rolling out 750 of the energy-tracking devices this month, with plans for a full-scale deployment later this year.

Although Pepco is sending customers a notice weeks prior to switching out their old meters, the counsel - an independent agency that represents utility customers - says a more comprehensive information campaign is needed.

Interim People's Counsel Brenda K. Pennington pointed to a town hall meeting on the meters held last Thursday by D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) in Chevy Chase, where residents complained about not receiving notices.

"There is an obvious need for more information about this program prior to deployment of the smart meters," Pennington said.

An education task force that includes members of the counsel's office and Pepco officials was convened by the Public Service Commission in July.

Betty Anne Kane, chairwoman of the commission, said the group is working on a campaign to inform District residents about advance metering technology, which allows a utility to monitor energy usage more quickly and accurately.

Kane declined to comment on the counsel's petition because a decision is pending, but she said the timetable for installing the meters has not changed since it was set in July 2009. The installation also won't have any effect on rates for at least three years, she said.

"There is plenty of time for a customer education program," Kane said. "The most important immediate benefit is the outage detection and response."

Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey said the company acknowledges the importance of informing customers and recently started community outreach events.

"We do not feel there is any reason to delay the installation that will ultimately result in energy savings, estimated bill minimization and outage detection improvement," he said.

The commission approved Pepco's application to deploy the new devices last December, shortly after the utility was awarded a $168 million grant in federal stimulus funding as part of an Energy Department program to promote smart-grid technology.

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