Sacramento Municipal Utility District is leading the national shift to �smart grid� networks with help from a $127-million stimulus grant.

Photo: SMUD

In June, SMUD hired Greenville, South Carolina-based Utility Partners of America, Inc. for $7.5 million to replace the smattering of 620,000 electromechanical and first-generation solid-state meters with Landis+Gyr smart meters that collect usage information digitally in real time from 50,000 demand-response, control relay access points.

The digital meters will allow customers who generate their own energy using solar or wind turbines to act as micro-generators and sell power to the grid. The devices could also improve customer service by alerting the utility of any outages immediately. UPA was one of six companies that responded to the April request for proposals. “It was a combination of local, national, union and non-union electrical contractors,” says Erik Krause, Sacramento Municipal Utility District Smart Meters project manager.

After reviewing the qualifications, price, customer service track record and software capabilities, two bidders were short-listed.

“The fact that they were going to hire 20% local subcontractors for the approximately 65 jobs that would be generated was one of the attractions,” says Krause. Also, some of the technicians, support staff and qualify control recruits could come from the ranks of meter readers who will no longer be needed once the automatic reading equipment is in place.

Funding for this portion of the project will come from SMUD capital improvement dollars based on an internal report that showed a projected $15 million in annual manpower and energy efficiency savings. “This project will not be paid for with increased rates,” Krause says.

The business case was helped by the fact that the bids almost all came in at the bottom end of the estimate range. “It was a very competitive bidding environment,” Krause adds.

Removal and replacement started in November and Krause expects the team to be replacing 50 meters per-day, per-technician with the final boxes put in place by March of 2011. Old meters will be recycled.

In addition, SMUD hired three local electrical companies to repair damage discovered during the replacement process on an on-call basis.

Separately, the California Public Utilities Commission approved expedited contracting on Nov. 20 for testing of similar Pacific Gas and Electric Co. smart meters being installed in the San Joaquin Valley. “The CPUC approved the expedited contracting because it determined that consumer complaints concerning the potential inaccuracy of smart meters constitutes an extraordinary circumstance,” the CPUC says in a written statement after the decision.

SMUD electricians will be responsible for retrofitting large transformers and pole-mounted data collection stations.

The retrofits are part of a larger $300-million smart grid initiative announced on Oct. 27 that will be funded in part by a $127 million Dept. of Energy American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant. The measure will include upgrades to the Sacramento distribution network that could save between 1% and 2% of the energy costs annually.

To better manage peak loads, SMUD will install programmable thermostats and home energy management systems that will allow partners like Sacramento State University, Los Rios Community College District campuses and California Dept. of General Services to monitor their usage and remotely control usage. Volunteer home and business owners could allow SMUD to adjust the amount of energy used by their appliances and air conditioning during peak demand response events or pay higher dynamic pricing.

SMUD spokesman Chris Capra estimated these programs could cut peak loads by as much as 400 megawatts or 12% during expensive energy purchasing times.

The grant will also be used to install 100 electric vehicle charging stations.

Because the parameters of the ARRA-funded project are still being determined, Capra couldn’t say when RFPs would be advertised or how many jobs the program would be created.