Published May 18, 2021
I recently wrote a blog about CenterPoint Energy’s petition to begin installing smart meters at the homes and businesses of its Minnesota customers. Like any time a regulated utility asks to spend its customers’ money, this proposal required approval by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). CUB recommended that the Commission deny the petition. On May 14, the Commission agreed with CUB and declined to approve the project.
In CUB’s comments to the PUC, we identified several reasons why CenterPoint fell far short in demonstrating how the purported benefits of the smart meters justify the $280 million estimated costs of the project. We also noted that many of the purported benefits of the meters would not be fully operational without additional investment (beyond $280 million) in an advanced communication system. While CenterPoint shareholders would likely earn a rate of return on the investment, CenterPoint had not provided nearly enough information about the potential benefits of the smart meters to indicate that investment would be worthwhile for customers.
During deliberations, one PUC Commissioner noted being persuaded by our written comments and agreed that CenterPoint had not met its burden of demonstrating that the benefits of the smart meter project outweigh its costs. We are pleased with this result. CenterPoint’s Minnesota customers should not be forced to foot the bill for substantial investments in technology that provides uncertain benefits. That is particularly true now, when CenterPoint’s Minnesota customers likely face a significant rate increase related to a price spike in the natural gas market that took place earlier this year.
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