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Utilities pursuing stimulus funding

John Mullins


Last April, Vice President Joe Biden and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke detailed plans by the Department of Energy (DOE), as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), to distribute more than $3.3 billion in smart grid technology development grants and an additional $615 million for smart grid storage, monitoring and technology viability.

The DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability defines a smart grid as “an automated, widely distributed energy delivery network…characterized by a two-way flow of electricity and information…capable of monitoring everything from power plants to customer preferences to individual appliances. It incorporates into the grid the benefits of distributed computing and communications to deliver real-time information and enable the near-instantaneous balance of supply and demand at the device level.” It gives potential benefits as increased reliability and affordability, reinforced global competitiveness, accommodation of renewable as well as traditional energy sources, this potentially reducing the grid’s carbon footprint, and the introduction of future advancements and efficiencies.

Two utilities operating in Mississippi are looking to get a piece of this ARRA funding. Jackson-based Entergy Mississippi Inc. and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), along with the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association (TVPPA) and participating local utilities, have applied for grants to establish smart grid pilot programs.

Both utilities expect to hear from the DOE on their applications in October.

“Entergy Mississippi is working hard to get these federal stimulus dollars, and is excited about the prospect of this pilot project,” said John Mullins, vice president of customer operations at Entergy Mississippi.

“If we are awarded the funds, this project would be the largest investment TVA has made in smart grid technology,” said Mike Ingram, demand response senior manager for TVA, whose network stretches into Central, East and Northeast Mississippi.


Entergy Mississippi

Entergy Mississippi, which provides electricity to more than 433,000 customers in 45 Mississippi counties, is pursuing funding for a $3-million pilot project that, if approved, would place automated, or “smart,” meters in 5,000 residences and a few small commercial businesses, including some government facilities, in the Jackson area.

“This new technology is designed to let customers view their energy consumption in real time. That’s valuable information they could use to reduce their electric bill,” Mullins said.

New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation has been working on various components of a smart grid strategy over the past three years, including a small-scale advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) pilot program in the Baton Rouge, La., area in 2008 and 2009. The specific smart grid DOE grant application for Entergy Mississippi was completed over the past two months.

In its grant proposal, Entergy estimated the schedule for having the AMI meters and the web portal application in place in August 2010. However, several factors could affect that schedule, such as the actual date the DOE grant is awarded (should it be approved) and the time required to get regulatory approval for the project from the Mississippi Public Service Commission (MPSC).

Entergy Mississippi says that if the pilot program meets expectations, it could be expanded. Expansion of the program will depend on the success of the program, the overall cost/benefits determined by the pilot program and approval by the MPSC to make additional investments in smart grid technology.


Tennessee Valley Authority

TVA, TVPPA and the participating utilities have applied for up to $200 million in ARRA funding. The funding would be utilized in the initial steps of developing a smart grid, which are installing communicating electric meters and establishing a communications network connecting the meters with the local utility.

As with Entergy Mississippi, the smart grid pilot program would roll out to homes as well as businesses. TVA has yet to determine which of the 23 distributors participating in the pilot would deploy first if the utility’s application is approved.

“The DOE stimulus funds would allow us to take these first steps and conduct a pilot program in some areas of the Valley,” said Doug Peters, director of education and training at TVPPA, a non-profit, regional service organization representing the 158 consumer-owned electric utilities the purchase wholesale electric power from TVA. “Consumers and small businesses will have smart meters that will display minute-by-minute how much power is being used and what it costs. They can lower their power use and immediately see the cost difference. Smart meters also will allow the utility to save power by turning off water heaters and other appliances for short periods when people are away from their homes or businesses.”

Ingram said planning of the project began in January under leadership of the TVPPA Technology Applications Committee. If approved, TVA said it expects to see benefits and return on investment as early as next summer. Full deployment, across all participating 23 distributors in the pilot program, would take two to three years.

As far as possible expansion is concerned, Ingram said, “A fundamental goal of the smart grid pilot is to compare and validate. We will compare the capabilities of different AMI communications — optical fiber to radio frequency to powerline carrier — to provide responsive peak reduction, as well as customer information about energy usage. The pilot program will make the business case for future expansion, across all distributors.”


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