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'Smart' meters help Clifton Park residents curb energy use

CLIFTON PARK — Almost a year after National Grid launched a pilot program meant to help Clifton Park customers save energy, the company has reported a drop in energy use.

National Grid began installing upgraded “smart” meters on Clifton Park residences in March. The new meters allow customers to track day-to-day energy use online, as opposed to waiting until the end of the month to see those details on their bills.

With the new meters, customers can see when they are using extra energy and attempt to cut back. Customers are offered incentives, including gift cards or opportunities to donate to charities, if they meet certain energy-saving goals.

National Grid’s aim last year was to install 14,000 of the new meters in town. According to Kim Ireland, who works in the company’s management, community and customer service department, just under 14,000 meters were installed. About 8 percent of Clifton Park customers chose not to have the new meters installed.

“We’ve got pretty good participation,” Ireland said. National Grid hoped to see no more than 10 percent of Clifton Park customers opting out of the program, she added. The town was selected for the pilot program after the utility analyzed which local communities were already engaged with their energy use, she said.

The Clifton Park initiative will be a three-year program, Ireland explained. If the meters result in a significant number of customers cutting energy costs, the company will consider rolling the smart meters out to other municipalities.

National Grid’s preliminary budget for the three years of the Clifton Park project amounted to approximately $26 million, part of $3 billion worth of improvements the company has been focusing on over the past five years, Ireland said. The new program also gives customers the opportunity to change their payment plans and receive energy conservation tips. Theoretically, the new system allows residents to save money via “high bill” alerts that go out when their energy use is on the rise, eliminating unexpectedly high bills. National Grid also tags certain high energy use days as “conservation days,” during which customers receive larger rewards for cutting back. The next step in the process is zeroing in on how exactly customers are saving energy, said Arun Vedhathiri, director of new energy solutions at National Grid. “They’re certainly reacting to those requests,” Vedhathiri said. “We are starting to see that a lot of folks are tuning down energy use. We don’t know if they’re turning out lights or turning thermostats down.” Ireland pointed out that the program is still in its infancy, and that the next two years will provide crucial data about whether the new meters are the best way to help people cut energy use. “If we provide customers access to their information, and we give them certain signals, will they respond? And if it comes back that this is successful, we may identify that it makes sense to roll it out elsewhere, or to grow it, or provide other options,” Ireland said. “If we find out that customers are not responsive, it probably does not make sense for us to roll it out in the same manner that we’ve done here.” At no point though, Ireland said, will the energy-saving program become something customers will be forced into. “We want the customer to maintain that choice,” she added.

The smart meters were created in conjunction with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statewide energy reformation strategy, called Reforming the Energy Vision (REV). In February 2015, the New York Public Service Commission ordered the six largest investor-owned electric utilities in the state, including National Grid, to develop projects that utilize the aspects of the REV initiative.

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