Environment

Kentucky regulators have denied a request from Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities to deploy advanced “smart” meters to ratepayers.

In its order, the Kentucky Public Service Commission said LG&E and KU hadn’t offered sufficient proof that the benefits of deploying the meters would outweigh their substantial cost.

Advanced Metering Systems, also known as smart meters, use radio transmitters to relay data in real-time back to utilities, as well as provide granular information about energy usage.

The company had argued the extra information smart meters provide would allow them to save customers money, as well as pinpoint and resolve power outages more quickly.

“By having energy usage information in their hands, by having access to how they’re using energy in their homes, this equipment allows customers to make educated decisions about changes they want to make,” spokeswoman Natasha Collins told WFPL in June.

But the widespread distribution of these meters was opposed by a coalition of advocacy groups, including Cathy Hinko of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition. She argued against the proposal earlier this year, saying the costs of paying for smart meters won’t be equitably distributed, particularly among renters and low- and fixed-income homeowners who won’t reap the benefits.

“Renters have the least control over their built environment and one of the supposed benefits of the advanced metering is that you can see the energy you’re using and change your ways or improve your home,” she said in June. “And that is not really given to people who are low-income.”

Then there was also the issue of replacing existing meters; these meters have already been paid for and have years left on their useful life. Others argued that it would be wasteful and expensive to replace them.

In the PSC filing, the utilities estimated the 2018-2022 roll-out would have cost approximately $350 million. For the average residential electric customer, that would amount to $2.60 per month, LG&E Vice President of Gas Distribution John Malloy said in testimony before the Public Service Commission. Any rate increases would have had to be separately approved by the PSC.

In an emailed statement, LG&E spokeswoman Natasha Collins said the company was disappointed with the decision.

“We will continue to offer the Advanced Meter Early Adoption Program to customers interested in learning more about their energy usage patterns and ways to be more energy efficient,” she said. “In addition, we will continue to invest in infrastructure improvements and other technologies further enhancing the safety and reliability of our systems, including automated distribution system equipment aimed at reducing outages and creating greater efficiencies in service restoration.”

LG&E and KU’s application was denied without prejudice, which means the utilities could file a similar request in the future.

This post has been updated to include a response from LG&E.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.
Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.