The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, in a July 2 order, opened phase two of its inquiry into the modernization of the electric grid in order “to consider the next appropriate steps for deployment of advanced metering functionality in” Massachusetts.
As noted in the order, the department in May 2018 issued an order approving the first Grid Modernization Plans for Massachusetts Electric and Nantucket Electric d/b/a National Grid; Fitchburg Gas and Electric Light d/b/a Unitil; and NSTAR Electric d/b/a Eversource Energy.
The department noted that it found that the substantial operational savings previously achieved by the companies through the automated meter reading (AMR) meters already in use in Massachusetts, combined with the stranded costs that would be incurred to replace those AMR meters prematurely, made full deployment of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) difficult to achieve in a cost-effective manner. In addition, the department determined that the costs to upgrade a company’s billing and meter data management systems to accommodate deployment of advanced metering functionality further complicated the cost equation.
The department added that it further determined that customer participation in time-varying rates (TVR) or other dynamic pricing programs was needed to maximize the benefits of advanced metering functionality. Additionally, the department said that it determined that price fluctuations in the forward capacity market added further uncertainty in achieving anticipated benefits from peak demand reduction.
The department noted that in its Grid Modernization Order, it identified several issues concerning deployment of advanced metering functionality appropriate for further investigation.
The department said that in the current proceeding, it will explore whether a targeted deployment of customer-facing technologies to electric vehicle (EV) customers, including residential customers, low-income customers, commercial and industrial (C&I) customers, and EV charging site hosts, is appropriate.
EV customers are a small, but rapidly growing, subset of electric customers in Massachusetts, the department said, adding that EV-charging load has the potential to be significant. Continued growth in the EV sector will be critical to the achievement of Massachusetts’ statewide goal of lowering carbon emissions 80% by 2050, the department said.
Noting that advanced metering functionality includes a broader range of technology than just AMI, the department said that its investigation will include a full range of cost-effective options in addition to standard AMI technology.
An investigation into a targeted deployment of advanced metering functionality to EV customers necessarily involves the exploration of TVR designs and other dynamic pricing options that would enable those customers to take advantage of the benefits of advanced metering functionality, the department said, adding that it will investigate potential TVR designs for EV customers receiving basic service, and will consider whether TVR options for those customers should include supply and distribution rates. The department said that it will also consider what requirements must be met to allow EV customers on competitive supply to participate in TVR to achieve the benefits of advanced metering functionality.
The department said that it will further investigate the current capabilities of each company’s systems to support advanced metering functionality for EV customers, adding that it will investigate the current status, constraints, and flexibility of each company’s metering, data management, communications, and billing systems as they relate to incorporating advanced metering functionality.
In the context of examining a targeted deployment of advanced metering functionality to EV customers, the department said that it will explore whether any alternative solutions may be compatible with the companies’ current communications, data management, and billing systems to allow each company to collect and communicate interval data without prematurely retiring existing AMR meters.
Noting that the potential for stranded costs is an impediment to a full deployment of advanced metering functionality, the department said that it will examine end-of-life meter replacement strategies that will support its grid modernization objectives and limit or avoid stranded costs.
The department said that it “expects that this proceeding will inform the customer-facing investments that the companies will incorporate into their future grid modernization investment plans.”
The department said that it seeks written comments by Aug. 13 from the companies and other interested stakeholders on certain questions, including:
- Discuss all factors the department should consider when determining whether a targeted deployment of advanced metering functionality to EV customers is appropriate
- Describe generally what basic service supply TVR design options each company should make available to these EV customer segments — residential EV customers; C&I EV customers; and EV charging site hosts
- Discuss how municipal aggregators can facilitate the participation of their EV customers in TVR to achieve the benefits of advanced metering functionality
- Describe the current status of the company’s metering, data management, communications, and billing systems as they relate to incorporating advanced metering functionality for EV customers
- Describe the company’s current strategy for meter replacements when an existing meter reaches the end of its useful life or otherwise needs to be replaced
Reply comments should be filed by Sept. 4, the department said.