Environment

Kentucky’s Public Service Commission is considering an overhaul of the commonwealth’s electricity grid. PSC commissioners will hold two meetings next week to gauge the public’s interest in implementing so-called “smart grid” technologies.

“Smart grid” is an umbrella term that refers to a number of tools and concepts to modernize different aspects of the country’s aging electricity infrastructure.

“Smart grid technology refers to that whole spectrum of technologies that allow, particularly electric utilities, to manage their grid down to the individual customer level, based on devices that provide for two-way communication,” said PSC spokesman Andrew Melnykovych.

These range from technology that’s used in transmission systems to control where electricity goes and monitor outages to individual smart meters in homes. The latter has stoked concerns about privacy and excess radiation among some; others see smart meters as a way to better monitor their personal energy usage and conserve energy.

The four investor-owned utilities in Kentucky—Louisville Gas & Electric, Kentucky Utilities, Duke Energy and Kentucky Power—are all parties to the case, as are the state’s electric co-ops.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and the Community Action Council for Lexington Fayette, Bourbon, Harrison and Nicholas Counties have intervened, citing concerns about the effects of implementing smart grid technology on low-income ratepayers.

Community Action Council Executive Director Malcolm Ratchford said his group provides assistance to people facing utility shutoffs. Smart grid technology would make it possible to do those shutoffs remotely, so he wants to ensure ratepayers are still given adequate warning.

“Our primary concern is making sure that families have enough time to get help,” he said. “And if you do it remotely through smart meters, that could be a possibility that it could be shut off from somewhere else, you may not have a person stopping by each location or sending a note.”ItronOpenWayElectricityMeterwithTwoWayCommunications

There are also concerns about how to treat ratepayers who want to opt-out of smart meters, and whether they would be required to shoulder any financial burden for doing so.

Melnykovych said the Public Service Commissioners will take submitted testimony and public comments into consideration and ultimately make a determination about how the state should move forward.

“There’s a number of issues that are in play in this proceeding, ranging from what kind of standards, if any, should be adopted for smart grid technology in Kentucky, to issues of cost recovery, cyber security, a whole range of issues that the commission has to examine,” he said.

The public meetings are  at 6 p.m. Tuesday and at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the PSC offices (211 Sower Blvd, Frankfort). The deadline for written comment is Feb. 27, 2015, and the commissioners are expected to make a decision within six to eight months.