Duke Energy Indiana proposes smart grid modernization

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Duke Energy Indiana is filing a plan with Indiana state utility regulators to modernize its aging electric grid that delivers power to more than 800,000 Hoosier homes, businesses and industries.

The seven-year, $1.9 billion plan uses a combination of advanced technology and infrastructure upgrades to improve service to its customers and provide them with better information about their energy use.

Benefits include:

Fewer and shorter power outages where "self-healing" smart grid systems are installed. Today, when a tree or other object comes in contact with a power line causing an outage, every customer served by that line — and other lines connected to it — loses power. With self-healing technology, the company can automatically detect the problem, isolate it and reroute power — so fewer customers are left in the dark while repairs are made.

Fewer estimated customer bills because of smart meters that are read automatically. By eliminating manual meter reading, there's no need to estimate customer bills during times when meters can't be easily accessed. The company will no longer have to access a homeowner's property for monthly, walk-by meter reads.

Quicker service because requests such as connecting and disconnecting service due to a customer move can be performed remotely through the new meters. There will be no need to wait for technicians to arrive to activate or deactivate service.

Faster outage identification because the company will be able to send a signal to meters in a targeted area to identify customers out of service rather than relying on customers to call. Duke Energy will also be able to provide customers more information about power outages affecting them and estimated outage restoration times. New software enables the company to provide more data in formats customers choose, such as text, phone and e-mail.

Better information for customers to manage their energy use because of new meters. The meters provide customers with access to data such as an hour-by-hour comparison of energy use and average energy use by day of week. The information creates the opportunity to offer more programs to help customers make wiser energy decisions. About 40 percent of the nation already has made the transition to advanced meter technology.

Energy savings from grid technology that optimizes voltage and reduces overall power consumption by about 1 percent on upgraded power lines.

Improved power reliability and safety from updating and replacing aging electric grid infrastructure, including substations, utility poles, power lines and transformers.

If the plan is approved by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), customers will see a gradual rate increase averaging about 1 percent per year between 2016 and 2022.

The company is filing the plan under the provisions of Indiana Senate Enrolled Act 560, state legislation that was passed in 2013 and is aimed at improving utility infrastructure. The law allows a utility to file a seven-year infrastructure improvement plan with state utility regulators.

If approved, a utility can request recovery of 80 percent of its investment through a customer bill tracker. Recovery of the remaining 20 percent would be deferred for review until the utility's next base rate case. Under the new law, utilities must file a base rate case before the end of their seven-year plans.

Duke Energy estimates the modernization work will generate or support more than 5,000 Indiana jobs over the seven-year period. There's also an estimated state and local tax impact of about $180 million.

The IURC will set a schedule for hearings in the case. A decision is expected by next spring.

Duke Energy Indiana's operations provide about 7,500 MW of owned electric capacity to about 800,000 customers in a 23,000-square-mile service area, making it the state's largest electric supplier.

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