The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has given San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) the green light to implement its smart meter technology project. The decision approves US$572 million for the for the smart meter project from 2007 through 2011.

SDG&E plans to begin replacing an estimated 1.4 million electric meters with smart meters and retrofitting approximately 900,000 gas meters throughout its service territory beginning in 2008.

“Smart meters will provide our customers with the technology tools necessary to help manage their energy usage and improve their energy efficiency,” says Debra L. Reed, president and CEO of SDG&E. “With this favorable decision, customers will now be empowered to make more informed energy choices which will ultimately help ease the strain on our system during times of high energy demand.”

The decision also formally adopts an agreement with the CPUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) and the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN). DRA and UCAN concurred that the smart meter program is an investment that will improve customer service by providing more information on energy usage, assisting in electric system outage detection and restoration, and transforming the meter-reading and other service processes.

“The agreement significantly improves upon SDG&E’s original proposal, providing more features and more value for rate payers. Consumers will be able to go online or eventually use in-home devices to help them manage their energy usage,” says Dana Appling, director of the Division of Ratepayer Advocates. “The smart meter program can now be considered a sound investment.”

The smart meter program will reduce SDG&E’s operating costs, according to Reed. These lower operational costs will come from a variety of efficiencies including deferring traditional capital expenditures on distribution facilities, eliminating manual meter reading, reducing unnecessary trips to a customer’s home to activate or shut off service, and detecting and restoring service more quickly after an outage.