Little Steps Can Lead to Big Energy Savings

Business direction background with two people

This column was also posted on Inside INdiana Business.

Indiana possesses a number of advantages in its business climate. One of those traditional benefits has been energy that is adequate, reliable and affordable.

The inexpensive part of that equation has come into question lately. Industrial energy rates that were once among the five lowest in the country are now around the middle of the pack. Federal regulations – ones that often impact Indiana to a greater degree due to its dependence on coal – lead the way as a major cause for the increase.

All companies, not just heavy energy users, can more closely evaluate their usage and likely lower their costs. That subject is the theme of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Connect and Collaborate series – luncheons around the state this summer for Chamber members.

Here is some of the information being shared in the form of 10 energy-saving tips:

  1. Know your costs: Just as we hopefully do or should be doing at home, examine your electric power bill. You have to realize the source of your largest energy costs to be able to potentially have the opportunity to reduce those charges.
  2. Evaluate your contract: Is your current agreement the best deal you can get? You don’t know what’s possible until you ask.
  3. Lighting can be a hidden cost: Are you aware of what type of lights you use? Are they the most efficient? Are unnecessary lights turned off when not needed? Have you considered motion sensors?
  4. Air recycling: Heat rises, making it important to properly recycle your air. Have a professional examine your system. Efficient ceiling fans (or exhaust fans in warmer weather) could make a major difference.
  5. Avoiding the pressure: Steam and air pressure are common ingredients in many industries. Leaking joints, pipes and systems can be a huge energy drain.
  6. Water equals power: If you use water from a municipal treatment plant (or even your own facility), nearly 20% of that cost is energy. Examine your system to eliminate water leaks. You are paying for your water, as well as the energy it takes to process and move the water.
  7. Check the pumps: Workplace pumps are huge energy users. Assess your pumps – are they needed? Could they be changed out for a more efficient model? Would a variable speed pump make more sense?
  8. Transportation troubles: Another personal priority needs to be carried over to the workplace. Car/truck care in the form of proper tire pressure, tune-ups and other maintenance is essential. Companies with multiple vehicles are often well served by having someone responsible for the fleet.
  9. Proper planning: In addition to the modes of transportation, logistics are critical. Efficiently planning trips and scheduling deliveries will help conserve power and enhance productivity. This applies to organizations of all sizes.
  10. Compressing the fuel: Compressed natural gas continues to gain favor among many companies with heavy delivery schedules. An upfront capital outlay is often rewarded with a very timely return on that investment.

Chamber President Kevin Brinegar, I and a local business leader look forward to sharing this information and talking energy with members at each stop on our Connect and Collaborate tour. Your business could be the beneficiary.

Complimentary Chamber Series Features Energy-Saving Tips, Member Benefits

in chamberRising electric bills unfortunately appear on the horizon due to new federal regulations. To help prepare the Hoosier business community, the Indiana Chamber will highlight timely energy-saving tips at its complimentary 2015 Connect and Collaborate series.

“Ten Tips to Manage Your Organization’s Energy Costs” will feature Vince Griffin, vice president of energy and environmental policy at the Indiana Chamber. Griffin is one of the leading voices on all energy topics as a result of his 17-plus years at the Indiana Chamber and previous industry experience.

Griffin will be joined by Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar and a local business/community leader in each of the eight Connect and Collaborate stops throughout the state. They will share guidance that can be applied for organizations of all types. Each session will also include a moderated panel discussion featuring questions and comments from attendees.

What’s more, these events offer a free lunch and introduction for non-Indiana Chamber members about the organization’s benefits, as well as act as a reminder for existing members about how to take full advantage of the membership services.

“Connect and Collaborate luncheons are a great way to gain simple tools to improve your workplace,” remarks Brock Hesler, director of membership with the Indiana Chamber. “This will be an excellent opportunity to learn what others are doing and bring some new ideas back to your office or production floor.

“In addition to inviting all of our members, we encourage those not currently part of the Indiana Chamber to attend and learn more about the organization,” he says.

There is no cost for the luncheons, which take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time. The schedule kicks off in Indianapolis on May 11 and wraps up in Muncie on August 25. In between are stops in Fort Wayne (May 19), Lafayette (June 2), Merrillville (June 8), Elkhart (June 9), Evansville (July 28) and Bloomington (August 20).

Details and registration are available online or by contacting Nick Luchtefeld at NLuchtefeld@indianachamber.com or (317) 264-6898.

Organizations Earn IOED Grants for Energy Conservation Efforts

fThe Indiana Office of Energy Development (OED) recently announced seven grantees that will share almost $600,000 to help support their unique, Hoosier-based community energy conservation projects.

Recipients of the 2015 Community Conservation Challenge (CCC) grants are:

Bethany Christian Schools – $100,000
Bethany Christian Schools will utilize its CCC grant dollars to install solar panels on its school roof. It will also install a wind turbine, which will be accomplished through other partnerships the school has established. Bethany Christian Schools will incorporate energy projects and conservation considerations into its student curriculum and community events.

Center for Sustainable Living – $99,989
Five congregations of different faith traditions will install solar panels to reduce their energy costs. These congregations cover a large portion of the state and include the communities of Bloomington, Indianapolis, Jeffersonville, Merrillville and Gary. The Center will share this project’s successes and promote energy conservation with other congregations and faith traditions around the state.

City of Bloomington – $59,381
Five facilities in Bloomington and Ellettsville – including two schools, one park, a fire station and a parking garage – will receive LED lighting upgrades and motion sensors through the CCC grant. The City of Bloomington and Monroe County will reach out to residents through all forms of traditional and social media to teach them how to become more energy efficient.

Evansville Park Foundation – $100,000
The Park Foundation will use its CCC grant dollars to install off-grid, stand-alone solar powered LED lighting with battery backups at Jacobsville Park and the Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage. Neither of these locations has any form of lighting currently. These lights will not only be more energy efficient than traditional forms of lighting, but they will also help to extend park hours and provide enhanced public safety. The Parks Foundation will also reach out to residents about energy efficiency through this project. Vectren Corporation, the local electric utility, has selected this project for further study with the intent to develop an educational outreach plan for consumers.

Indiana Municipal Power Agency (IMPA) – $38,579
LED streetlights will be installed in Dublin (Wayne County) and Williamsport (Warren County) using CCC grant dollars. These LED lights will replace less efficient mercury vapor lamps. IMPA will share project successes and promote energy efficiency with its other 59 member communities and their customers.

Lake Shore Foods Corporation – $100,000
The Karwich and Franklin stores of Al’s Supermarkets in Michigan City will retrofit their lighting to LEDs. This energy efficiency project will be shared with their customers and local residents through “Al’s Good Neighbor Program” which promotes Food, Exercise and Sustainability.

Loftus Robinson – $100,000
Loftus Robinson will install a combined heat and power (CHP) project at The Switch, a mixed-used commercial facility in downtown Fishers. CHP is an integrated and highly efficient energy system that captures the “waste heat” produced by electricity generation. This waste heat is recycled and can be used for additional energy needs like heating or hot water. This system will also provide standby power for emergency lighting and elevator systems. The City of Fishers will partner with Loftus Robinson to educate the public on the project and its benefits for the community.

“We were very pleased with the response to this year’s CCC grant program,” said Tristan Vance, Director of the Indiana Office of Energy Development (OED) and Chief Energy Officer for the State. “This competitive grant program recognizes and encourages collaborative conservation efforts. Perhaps most importantly, the ability to incorporate an educational component into each community project helps tell important energy conservation stories in clear and tangible ways.”

An Energy/Environmental Issue Primer for the Start of Session

The 2015 legislative session began Tuesday and will adjourn no later than April 29. This “long session” will include the state’s $30 billion biennial budget and likely see more than 1,000 bills filed. Bill filing deadlines are January 13 and 14 for the House and Senate, respectively. You can count on the environmental and energy area to add its fair share of legislative ideas to the mix. In the environmental arena, we expect to see the following:

  • The Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s perennial laundry list of technical “clean-up” items
  • Rep. David Wolkins’ “No More Stringent Than” annual initiative
  • Something related to “brownfields” and clean-up efforts
  • Anti-harvesting of Indiana’s hardwoods
  • Above-ground storage tanks controls

In the “water resources” area, we expect to see the following:

  • Legislation to direct the Indiana Finance Authority to survey/examine the larger – and a few smaller – water supply utilities in the state
  • Establish an Indiana Water Resources Institute
  • Create incentives to promote water utilities to invest in infrastructure improvements

And it is likely that the electric power/energy area will really heat up (sorry) as multiple issues rise:

  • Legislation related to the Governor’s energy plan
  • Energy efficiency measures
  • Allowance to purchase electric power outside the current provider
  • Install a requirement that any new electric power generation be allowed competitive bids/procurement
  • Establish a rate case schedule for electric power utilities of XX (to be determined number of) years
  • Address the rural vs. municipal territorial/compensation dispute

Not all of these issues are ones that the Indiana Chamber will necessarily oppose or support – they will be part of the discussion but some may never get a hearing. This is like your friendly weather forecaster trying to tell you if it will rain, snow or be sunny in one month.

Comment Period Open for EPA’s Latest Carbon Regulation

Potentially devastating to our state. That’s how we view a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation to strictly limit carbon emissions from the nation’s existing coal-fired power plants. This latest proposal comes on the heels of a plan to put in place greater pollution controls for any new power plants.

The President has left no doubt that he is mounting an all-out war against coal. Congress refused to bite on a climate change bill, so he’s spending his second term trying to legislate via the EPA. Smart, necessary regulations make sense, but that’s the opposite of what we have here; it’s entirely unreasonable given our nation’s energy needs.

These EPA regulations also will barely even move the needle toward reducing carbon emissions (not even by 2% according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy), but they will deal a tangible blow to the national and state economies.

The Institute for 21st Century Energy predicts the regulations will result in a whopping $51 billion in annual economic losses through 2030. On top of that, some 224,000 Americans will lose their jobs and consumers will pay $289 billion more for electricity. Separately, the U.S. Department of Energy has estimated the electricity cost increase could be as much as 80%.

Most Hoosier businesses and families can’t afford to pay that, and they certainly can’t afford a slumping economy and job market.

The reality is that Indiana will be hit far harder than most states because it’s the number one per capita manufacturing state in the nation. Over 80% of Indiana’s electric power comes from coal, compared to only 45% for the country. Despite diversification efforts, coal remains Indiana’s primary energy source.

For decades, companies that have located in Indiana have often cited a reliable and affordable supply of electricity among the determining factors, according to site selectors and information gathered by state government. Losing that competitive advantage entirely is now a real possibility with coal coming under attack by the Obama administration.

We encourage you to let the EPA know your thoughts on this latest regulation by visiting www.indianachamber.com/EPA. Also, let your members of Congress know; they need to take action before irreparable damage is done to our economy.

Time is Now for Pres. Obama’s Overdue Support for Keystone XL Pipeline

The Indiana Chamber supports the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline as a means to reduce our national dependence on unstable governments, improve our national security, strengthen ties with an important ally and promote the production of Canadian oil. Based on a recent ABC News/Washington Post Poll, most of the country agrees.

Here’s a recent summary of the Chamber’s position:

Indiana and our country are deeply dependent on foreign oil sources from countries that are typically not our friends. Canada has vast oil reserves and is presently our number one supplier of oil. It is critical that we continue to have a positive relationship with Canada by supporting their oil production and the pipeline that will carry this crude. Many Indiana companies supply various products and materials that will be used to refine this oil and move it through the pipeline.

Additionally, the Chamber agrees with Deroy Murdock’s recent column for National Review Online that President Obama needs to stop wavering and approve this project. Read the full article, but here’s an excerpt:

Five years and five months have passed since TransCanada first asked the State Department to bless KXL. Since the pipeline would cross America’s international border with Canada, it requires presidential approval, typically influenced by the State Department’s guidance. Since TransCanada filed its application on September 19, 2008, State has been very generous with its advice, offering at least five different assessments on KXL:

• On April 16, 2010, State found that KXL would have “limited adverse environmental impacts.”

• On August 26, 2011, State stated that “There would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed pipeline corridor.”

• On March 1, 2013, State virtually echoed its previous report when it ruled that “there would be no significant impacts to resources along the proposed Project route.”

• This past January 31, State concluded that “approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the U.S.”

• On February 26, State’s Office of Inspector General rejected charges that the department’s KXL review suffered ethical lapses: “OIG found that the department’s conflict of interest review was effective and that the review’s conclusions were reasonable.”

Obama’s 61-month-long navel-gaze on KXL (atop the four months that State pondered the pipeline late in G.W. Bush’s presidency) is pathetic when compared with American milestones that were achieved in less time:

• NASA needed four years, from 1979 to 1983, to build the Space Shuttle Discovery.

• As OilSandsFactCheck.org outlines in an excellent infographic, it took just two years (1941 to 1943) to build the Pentagon — the world’s largest office building, and home to 30,000 military and civilian employees.

• The Golden Gate Bridge linked San Francisco and Marin County, Calif., after just four years and four months of work over one of America’s most unforgiving waterways. Construction began on January 5, 1933. Pedestrians first crossed the bridge on May 27, 1937; cars followed the next day.

• Hoover Dam required five years of construction (1931 to 1936). It was finished two years ahead of schedule.

• It took one year, three months, and nine days to erect the Empire State Building. Between January 22, 1930, and May 1, 1931, a force of 3,439 men built what became — at 1,454 feet — Earth’s tallest skyscraper.

Obama’s endless “study” of Keystone is disgraceful. If he believes it should be built, he should approve it. TransCanada will invest $5.3 billion to build the pipeline. Taxpayer cost: $0.00. While some 10.2 million Americans officially are out of work, KXL will offer direct or indirect employment to an estimated 42,100 people.

“These jobs are really good-paying jobs,” says Union Business Manager magazine. “They provide not only a good living wage, they provide health care, and they also provide pensions.” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky calls KXL “the single largest shovel-ready project in America.”

Beyond the unemployed, all 315 million Americans would enjoy the steady flow of friendly oil from a NATO military ally. Every petrodollar exported to Canada is one less dollar shipped to overseas oil producers — such as terrorist-funding Saudi Arabia, gay-jailing Nigeria, and the Crimea-invading Russian Federation.

Chamber’s Top Legislative Priorities in 2014

Eliminating business personal property tax, allowing employers to screen prospective hires for tobacco use and establishing a work share program are among the top legislative priorities for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in 2014.

“In many categories of commercial and industrial property tax, Indiana is among the very highest states in the country. That’s largely due to our taxing of machinery and equipment. It’s a remaining black mark on our tax climate – an area where we simply can’t compete,” declares Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“All of our surrounding states have done away with the tax except for Kentucky, which taxes personal property at a lower rate than Indiana. It’s past time to remove this burden that can greatly hinder business expansion and innovation.”

On the health care front, the Indiana Chamber is seeking to repeal what is termed the smokers’ bill of rights for prospective employees.

“This is an intrusion into the rights of employers in making hiring decisions. Holding smoking up to the same standards as we hold discrimination based upon race, gender, religion and ethnicity seems arbitrary and without justification,” Brinegar offers.

“There are other behaviors (such as substance abuse and having a criminal record) which are also personal choice and over which employers do have discretion in hiring decisions; this reinforces that the state’s protection for smokers is unnecessary and not well founded.”

One policy the Indiana Chamber believes would benefit employers, employees and the state is a work sharing initiative that would allow employers to maintain skilled, stable workforces during temporary economic downturns.

“Employers would be able to reduce hours without layoffs and provide unemployment compensation to partially compensate workers for their lost hours. Then when circumstances improve, employees could return to full-time work status for the company,” Brinegar explains.

“What’s more, a federal grant is available for three years to pay for the cost of the program. It’s a positive scenario for all parties.”

When it comes to K-12 education, Brinegar says the Indiana Chamber will continue to push for the absolute best academic standards for the state.

“That’s the bottom line. We need to improve student learning, meet the essential college- and career-ready requirement and have an appropriate student assessment system. Those elements all currently exist within the Common Core State Standards program, which we continue to fully support.”

Below are the Indiana Chamber’s top legislative priorities. The complete list is also available on the Indiana Chamber web site (www.indianachamber.com).

CIVIL JUSTICE
Support regulating the practice of lawsuit lending, in which a third party provides a plaintiff a cash advance loan while the legal case is pending. In turn, a plaintiff agrees to repay the advance (which is usually at a high interest rate) from the lawsuit proceeds. This practice complicates the legal process by forcing more cases to go to trial because the plaintiffs can’t afford to settle due to their repayment agreement with the lender. In turn, this causes more and more Indiana businesses to pay expensive legal fees. This lending practice is legal in most states, but regulation and transparency do not exist in Indiana.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Support a voluntary vehicles miles travelled (VMT) pilot program as a potential replacement for existing fuel taxes. With Indiana’s already insufficient fuel tax revenues for roads/transportation trending down and more fuel efficient and electric/hybrid vehicles on the roads, a new funding mechanism for road maintenance needs to be found. Owners of alternative-fuel vehicles, including electrical vehicles, should pay for the roads they use just like other drivers. Voluntary VMT pilots in other states are currently taking place and Indiana cannot afford to ignore this potential road funding alternative.

Support expanding the patent-derived income tax exemption to the pre-patent phase. This incentive change would allow innovative, high-tech businesses that typically pay high wages to qualify during the earlier patent-pending phase of the (often long) patent application process, thus carrying forward any credit. Many emerging businesses would find this helpful in capitalizing their start-ups and expanding hiring. (Current law states you must have had a patent issued by the federal government before you can apply for the exemption.)

EDUCATION
Support maintaining high-achieving academic standards, such as the Common Core, and allowing the State Board of Education (SBOE) to determine student assessments. Indiana needs standards that improve student learning and meet the college- and career-ready requirement. The testing component of the standards can best be determined by the SBOE.
Support a framework for the future development of publicly-funded preschool initiatives for low-income families. There is critical need for improved preschool opportunities, especially for low-income children whose families may not have the means to provide a high-quality preschool experience or to provide needed learning opportunities in the home. The Indiana Chamber supports publicly-funded preschool programs that are: focused on those families in greatest need, limited to initiatives that maintain parental choice, focused on concrete learning outcomes and integrated with reforms at the elementary school level that will maintain and build upon the gains.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT
Support a water policy to stabilize our economic future and effectively compete with other states. A policy/plan is needed in order for the state to effectively manage its significant water resources, as well as to ensure delivery of an adequate, reliable and affordable supply of water.

HEALTH CARE
Support repealing the smokers’ bill of rights for prospective employees from the Indiana Code. The Indiana Chamber believes that all employers should have the right to choose whether or not to screen and/or hire prospective employees who use tobacco products. Since employers are footing most of the bill for health care costs for their employees, they should be able to have some discretion in determining whether new employees use tobacco products or not.

Support reinstating the wellness tax credit. The Indiana Chamber supports this incentive to start a wellness program, which can increase attendance, boost morale and productivity, as well as positively impact health care coverage costs.

LABOR RELATIONS
Support a work sharing program that will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns. Employers then could reduce hours without layoffs, enabling workers to keep their jobs – which hopefully could be returned to full-time status once economic circumstances improve. Also part of the equation: Unemployment compensation to partially compensate workers for their lost hours.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT    
Support common sense simplification and reforms to local government structures and practices. Creating the option for counties to have a single county commissioner and county councils with legislative and fiscal responsibilities is one that several Indiana counties desire. There should be incentives to reward local government efficiencies and performance in the delivery of services to taxpayers.

TAXATION
Support legislation to reduce the dependence on the taxation of business machinery and equipment. This tax discourages capital investment, places a disproportionate property tax burden on businesses and puts Indiana at a competitive disadvantage with surrounding states that have eliminated it or are moving to do so.

Americans Say ‘Yes’ to Keystone XL

If public sentiment is a factor in the Obama admistration's final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, it's time to let the oil flow. The latest survey results are consistent with previous polls, except that the numbers in support continue to grow to even higher levels.

The United Technologies/National Journal survey says:

While the Obama administration mulls whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Americans are already decided. They support the project by a wide margin, prioritizing potential economic benefits over possible environmental consequences.

The poll finds that more than two-thirds of respondents, 67 percent, support building the pipeline to carry Canadian oil to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast; that includes 56 percent of Democrats. Less than a quarter of Americans, 24 percent, oppose the project, the poll shows.

The State Department is evaluating the proposal, and President Obama said last month that the pipeline should not be permitted if it leads to a significant increase in greenhouse-gas emissions. There is no timeline for a decision, but the State Department says it is evaluating the project in "a rigorous, transparent, and efficient manner."

In the question posed by interviewers, poll respondents were told that Keystone supporters "say it will ease America's dependence on Mideast oil and create jobs," while opponents "fear the environmental impact" of building the pipeline.

Congressional Republicans have been prodding the administration to approve Keystone, with the GOP House holding a symbolic vote in support of the pipeline in May. (That measure won unanimous support from Republicans, save for one member who voted "present," while 19 Democrats also voted in favor.)

Mr. President, It’s Time to Approve Keystone Pipeline

It's Keystone Pipeline time again. The Obama administration rejected the original plan last year. A new route for the job-creating, energy-supplying pipeline has been proposed and supported this time by the Nebraska governor. Despite climate change discussion, here's why the President should not stand in the way, according to The American Conservative:

This should be a no-brainer at this point. The Obama administration’s refusal to approve the pipeline shadily cited a lack of time to review the proposal; a presidential statement last year noted that the delay was “not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline.” Well, time has passed. Environmental impact has been studied.

As the editors of the Washington Post observe:

TransCanada has reapplied with a new proposed route, and this week Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) signed off on the plan, following an analysis from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. The regulators found that the new route would avoid the Sand Hills and other areas of concern. Though there is always some risk of spill, they said, “impacts on aquifers from a release should be localized, and Keystone would be responsible for any cleanup.” TransCanada will have to buy at least $200 million in insurance to cover any cleanup costs.

Adding to that, a letter signed by 53 senators, including nine Democrats, urged Obama to go ahead with the pipeline. “There is no reason to deny or further delay this long-studied project,” it said.

The decision to delay the pipeline reeked of election-year politics. Needless to say, the political calculus has changed. There’s a view that the rhetorical privileging of combating climate change in Obama’s second Inaugural Address will make it hard to throw environmentalists under the bus over Keystone. I think it makes it easier. Approving the pipeline offers Obama a small Nixon-to-China-like opportunity to say something like, We can safely fulfill our energy needs now while laying a foundation for a clean-energy future.

‘Smart’ Efforts Help Restore Power

Some East Coast communities have been able to rebound from Superstorm Sandy faster than others. Part of the reason can be attributed to smart grids and smart power meters. Stephen Goldsmith writes about their impact now and in the future in Governing:

Sandy’s claiming of the title as the second most costly hurricane in U.S. history shows us the advantages and limitations of rigorous planning. The slow and arduous recovery faced by some East Coast communities has been coupled with the impressive speed with which many other communities have been able to return to business as usual. New emergency procedures put in place at the local and state levels deserve a lot of the credit. These included shutting down infrastructure and battening the hatches to protect vital resources and prepare for recovery.

Yet the storm teaches us that the best way to plan for the truly unexpected will be by being prepared to to improvise and by understanding that resilience in times of disaster isn’t determined only by a static disaster plan but to a greater degree by being dynamic and responsive to change. Being dynamic requires real-time data. Recent technologies are beginning to provide more access to more data, allowing analytics to find the patterns fast enough to make it useful during a disaster.

Smart grids, and particularly smart electric meters, played a promising role in improving disaster response and the speed with which power could be restored after Sandy passed. That role was small-scale and local, since electric utilities’ conversion to smart-grid technology has been slower and spottier than desired, but the potential is there for the technology to have a much larger impact as these systems are rolled out more widely.

At best, phone calls and spotty service-outage reports can slowly piece together a hazy picture of the conditions of a power network. But smart meters, programmed to send out a "last call of distress" when power is lost, can automatically report service cuts. This gives a utility company instant access to regional maps of outages, allowing it to prioritize repair-crew mobilization and begin getting service back to customers without them even having to report an outage.

Smart meters also can help identify the locations of particularly tricky "nested" outages, when more than one break is affecting an area. Additionally, smart meters can automatically report getting back on line when power is restored, eliminating unnecessary calls between the utility company and customers or follow-up service-crew visits. Repair crews can move on to the next repair rather than spending time checking on their last one, increasing efficiency and reducing system repair time considerably.

Pepco, the electric utility serving Washington, D.C., and nearby parts of Maryland, is crediting its partially implemented smart-meter system with helping get the power back on for its 100,000 customers affected by outages in the wake of Sandy. The store of information generated by the smart meters not only is available to the company’s repair crews to inform their response but also is aggregated into a regional map available online to give customers a better idea of system conditions.

PPL Electric Utilities’ smart meters allowed the company’s Pennsylvania customers to check on the status of their power’s return online and from the safety and comfort of remote locations, without having to trek out to potentially powerless homes or using the precious resource of repair-crew hours to do so. And while Baltimore Gas and Electric’s smart-meter system is only 10 percent complete, the utility credits the program with facilitating much faster troubleshooting and with replacing phone calls to customers to check on service–calls that often go unanswered–with a quick and reliable stream of information.

The next time a major storm hits, there will be more examples of service-restoration improvements enabled by this technology. In the face of consumer suspicions and resistance to smart meters, utilities need to publicize these success stories to build support for continued smart-grid development. The more data government and utilities can tap, the faster they can act and the more resilient a community can become.