Colorado Public Utilities Commission to host public hearing on Xcel Energy proposal to update technology | MyWindsorNow.com

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Colorado Public Utilities Commission to host public hearing on Xcel Energy proposal to update technology

The hearing

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission will take public comment on Xcel Energy’s application seeking approval of three components of an advanced electric distribution grid. The public comment hearing will run from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday in Denver, 1560 Broadway, Suite 250.

Residents who are unable to attend the hearing may submit written comments about the proposal by mail, by email at dora_puc_complaints@state.co.us, or by using the PUC’s online comment form at http://www.colorado.gov/dora/puc. Written comments should include the docket number, 16A-0588E, and must be received by the CPUC by April 6.

Xcel Energy officials want approval for a $562 million initiative that would update the company's technology and potentially raise customers' bills by as much as 2 percent per month.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission will hold a public hearing on Xcel's proposal today in Denver. The commission is holding the hearing to determine whether Colorado rate-payers are up for the increased costs for the new infrastructure.

Xcel's Advanced Grid Intelligence and Security proposal was first introduced in August, and could "improve power reliability, allow for better integration of distributed generation on to the electric grid, and provide customers with more information to control and track their energy usage," according to the company.

Opponents of the proposal say the new energy initiative would impose significant costs on ratepayers and implements policies where the benefits do not outweigh those costs.

According to utilities commission spokesman Terry Bote, this is the only public hearing scheduled for this particular proceeding. Formal evidentiary hearings for the proposal are set for April 3-6, and he said a decision on the proposal likely will come in mid- to late May.

Xcel officials want a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the commission to implement three main components of the energy proposal.

» Installing "advanced metering infrastructure" — essentially smart meters — for all its Colorado electric customers. Advanced metering is a newer type of meter that has the ability to collect data in 15-minute intervals, as opposed to the old mechanical meters Xcel reads once a month, according to Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz.

» Using new technology, which allows the company to provide more consistent voltage to all customers throughout its distribution grid. Stutz said that should save customers money by requiring less overall generation and by increasing reliability.

» Implementing a field area network, which is the communications overlay that allows Xcel to communicate with customers and their meters, down to the individual customer, Stutz said.

If approved, the project will be paid through customer bills. Stutz said since nothing has been approved yet, costs have not yet fully been determined.

"(The project) is expected to have minimal impact on individual customer bills, initially of around 1 percent, but no more than 2 percent a month, but it should begin saving customers money after several years and over the life of the technology," he said.

The Advanced Grid Intelligence and Security projects would begin implementation in 2017, and would be completed by 2022.

Bill Levis, an opponent of the project and a senior advocate for AARP Colorado, said the benefits of the project would not outweigh the cost.

"Even in Xcel's own filing, they admit that the cost is going to be $51 million more than the benefit," Levis said.

He noted a similar project, Xcel's "Smart Grid City" experiment in Boulder a few years ago, as proof of failure. He argued consumers found the new technology difficult to understand and Boulder took out the technology after seven years, instead of the intended 20 years because of its inefficiency.

"The Colorado Energy Office has admitted that consumers spend less than 10 minutes a year on energy," he said. "Smart meters require consumers to spend much more time programming their thermostats and everything else than most consumers ever want to do."

He noted energy use in the state is flat, even with the increased population. Levis said education about energy is the best tactic to use, instead of implementing Xcel's proposal.

"New appliances are much more efficient, and that's the best way to go," he said.