17 Oct 2010

Smart Grid Stakes Are High for Baltimore Gas & Electric and Its Customers

Written by Jim Pierobon

Baltimore Gas & Electric has made admirable strides plotting, researching and testing smarter grid applications (see p. 18) backed by a promise from the U.S. Department of Energy to help deployment with a $200 million “Stimulus” grant. But the utility made one miscalculation early in 2010, at least in the eyes of Maryland’s Public Service Commission: it needed to put some ‘skin’ in the game to match the hype in its promotions.

How the Public Service Commission goes along remains to be seen, but BGE seems to be getting the message and the Commission appears willing to go along, with checks and balances to reward progress or penalize the lack of it. The upshot: this lesson many utilities should heed for the smart grid to deploy as quickly as possible — be sure consumers benefit and doubly sure they understand it.

The stakes for BGE and its customers are among the highest in the country due to how quickly electricity prices rose in the wake of the deregulation of retail electricity prices throughout most of Maryland starting about 5 years ago.

BGE says it is aiming to reduce overall peak demand for electricity by 25% in part by deploying smart meters. Such an achievement, which is a priority for Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, would enable BGE and its parent, Constellation Energy, to reduce overall demand while minimizing greenhouse gas emissions with the additional of new solar and wind energy capacity. That job just became more difficult when Constellation Energy backed off of a guarantee from the U.S. government to loan it money for the addition of a third nuclear power reactor at its Calvert Cliffs plant situated on the Chesapeake Bay.

As a large “baseload” source of generating capacity, nuclear power has tried to position the next generation of reactors as integral to dealing with climate change. Apparently, Constellation Energy is not as convinced as most of its utility brethren are. As a result, smart meters loom increasingly important for Maryland’s energy future.

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