Agency approves PSE&G’s $700 million spend on smart meters

BPU’s move likely shows it’s starting to embrace technology already hard at work in other parts of the country
Credit: (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
File photo: Utility employee installs a smart meter.

The New Jersey Board of Utilities formally approved a new program allowing Public Service Electric & Gas to spend $707 million over the next four years to install smart meters in homes and businesses of its 2.3 million electric customers.

The program, the largest installation of smart-meter technology in the history of New Jersey, is significant. It’s the first time the BPU has given the nod to the state’s largest utility to invest a huge amount in a technology the agency has been reluctant to embrace — although it’s widely in use across the nation.

But smart meters, otherwise known as advanced-metering infrastructure, hold the potential to reduce customers’ bills by enabling them to curb energy consumption, as well as speeding service restoration during widespread power outages.

The installation of the meters will not immediately boost customers’ bills, although they ultimately will be saddled with the cost, but not until the next time PSE&G asks for a change in its base rates, probably sometime in 2024.

Smart meters create an integrated, two-way communications network between customers and the utility, allowing homeowners and businesses to make more informed decisions about how and when they use energy.

“This is a vital step toward achieving a smarter and clean-energy future for New Jersey,’’ said PSE&G President Dave Daly. It also aligns the utility with the Murphy administration’s clean-energy goals, which aim to transition the state to 100% clean energy by midcentury.

Only Rockland Electric, the state’s smallest electric utility, has installed smart meters for its 66,000 customers. The state’s other two electric utilities, Jersey Central Power & Light and Atlantic City Electric, also are seeking approval to spend $418 million and $220 million, respectively, to install smart meters for their customers.

“New Jersey is being smart on smart meters,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “These can be an important tool to move the state in the right direction to reduce energy. These meters, which already are widely used across the country, will let people make their energy use as efficient as possible.’’

The BPU quickly approved the PSE&G program, without comment. Earlier, however, BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso acknowledged the agency has heard a lot of concerns raised by organized labor about the impact of the program on union jobs. In the past, reading meters has been a task assigned to union employees who go home to home to measure electric use.

Worried about the loss of jobs, Fiordaliso urged the utilities to work with labor to ensure a smooth transition to smart meters with as little disruption as possible, including training workers for potential jobs within the company.

PSE&G does not plan to lay off any of the couple-hundred meter readers at the utility, according to Fred Daum, executive director of customer operations. ‘’We are committed to work with the unions to provide opportunities to transition to other roles in the business,’’ Daum said.

The utility also plans to launch an education campaign to help customers understand smart meters and the technology behind it, he said. “There are savings for everybody by embracing this technology,’’ Daum added.

For the utility, the improved communications will lead to fewer truck dispatches and other efficiencies that are expected to reduce PSE&G’s carbon dioxide emissions by about 2,800 tons per year.

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