ComEd’s smart grid program finally has some good news to share. In a progress report to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) this week, the utility said that 479 distribution automation (DA) devices installed in the first year of the program resulted in 82,000 fewer customer power interruptions in 2012.

DA devices enable a distribution utility to reroute power flows when lines are made vulnerable by weather or other events or by unexpected usage patterns, providing a “self-healing” element of a smarter grid. ComEd said the devices prevented 20,000 service interruptions during the Chicago area’s mid-April storms.

In a press release April 30, the utility said that it had worked “at an accelerated pace in 2012 as a result of the smart grid law enacted in 2011.” That law has ComEd spending $2.6 billion for its 10-year grid modernization plan that aims, in part, to have DA covering nearly 90% of its customers. It invested $32 million in DA in 2012 and plans to spend over $44 million this year. When coupled with smart meters that can communicate with ComEd’s operations center, customers will no longer have to call to report a power outage or restoration.

However, the smart meter part of the smart grid program in particular has been dragged down by controversy. The bill authorizing the plan was originally enacted over Governor Pat Quinn’s veto, and last year, when the ICC reduced the utility’s requested rate hike, ComEd said it was delaying smart meter deployment due to lack of funds. Then, at the beginning of April 2013, it was hit with a suit that says ComEd should return to customers $182 million intended for smart meter installations that didn’t happen in 2012.

Now the utility says that although smart meter installation is scheduled to start in 2015, “it could start in 2013 if Senate Bill 9, which was passed recently by the Illinois Senate and House, is enacted this spring. The measure has been sent to Gov. Quinn for his signature.”

The average residential customer bill will increase $5 per month beginning in 2014 to cover higher transmission and distribution costs, including those related to various smart grid components. However, that increase will be offset by lower energy delivery costs, starting this June, ComEd says. An April 29 release said, “This means that even with the proposed January increase, customers on ComEd supply will still be paying about 10 percent less on their electric bill in 2014 than they are today.”

Sources: ComEd, Chicago Tribune

Gail Reitenbach, PhD, Managing Editor (@POWERmagazine, @GailReit)

Note: This story was originally published on April 30