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Experts say Prepa should drop smart-meter program

By on December 7, 2016

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Energy Commission (PREC) experts are recommending that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) discontinue its smart-meter program contending it isn’t cost-effective.

The smart-meter program was touted publicly by the utility as one that would improve the precision of readings and reduce energy theft.

Prepa says it has 13,000 smart meters. In 2015, it initiated a pilot program to install 30,000 meters.

In this Feb. 4, 2016 photo, a worker from the Energy Theft Control Unit with Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority holds an electric meter with busted glass during an inspection in Carolina, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

In this Feb. 4, 2016 photo, a worker from the Energy Theft Control Unit with Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority holds an electric meter with busted glass during an inspection in Carolina. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

The utility indicated that it spends about $10 million a year replacing meters and wanted to use some of the funding for smart meters. In June 2015, Prepa ordered 15,000 smart meters, and ended up receiving 10,216, as well as data collection devices and network support.

In total, Prepa’s estimated total cost for the Phase I pilot was $7.5 million or about $500 per meter.

The next phase of the Smart Meter Pilot project was to expand the existing pilot project by another 15,000 smart meters. For this phase, Prepa had estimated that the costs will be $4.675 million or $311 per meter. Prepa anticipated that meter costs will decrease from $223.62 per meter in the first phase to $193 per meter for the second phase. However, the pilot program failed to yield the results Prepa expected.

“The results of PREPA’s pilot indicate that it had not achieved some of its goals,” the report by experts Ariel Horowitz and Jeremy Fisher reads.

For instance, 57% of the 10,216 meters it received had to be returned for recalibration. On the other hand, it detected theft in 169 out of 6,844 meters installed.

There is no evidence that Prepa’s system will actually be benefited in the near or mid‐term by the deployment of smart meters, and smart meters do little to mitigate a generation, transmission and distribution system that simply fails to operate reliably, the experts said.

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