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Sen. Shaheen visits N.H. Electric Cooperative's 'smart grid'

Instrumental in helping secure the funding, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen had a first-hand look Friday at how the N.H. Electric Cooperative will integrate "smart grid" technology to improve the way it does business, giving its members a better understanding of, and control over, the energy they use.
For several years, the non-profit, member-owned utility has been planning to replace its approximately 83,000 electric meters with so-called "smart meters." That effort got a boost when the Department of Energy awarded NHEC two grants totaling $18.4 million.
Shaheen got an overview of how the money would be used during a meeting Friday afternoon with NHEC officials at the co-op's Plymouth headquarters.
According to NHEC, smart meters are part of "smart grid" technologies that use two-way communications, advanced sensors and controls, advanced meters and computers "to help reduce members' energy use, improve the efficiency and reliability of the electricity grid, facilitate the connection of distributed generation facilities to the system and optimize the integration of renewable energy systems."
Under its Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project, the co-op also will include in-home energy management systems and intelligent controls in appliances, "giving members more choice and control over how and when electricity is used, which can save money and help NHEC operate its electricity network more efficiently and reliably for the benefit of all its members."
The AMI project has two components: a Smart Grid Investment Project and a Smart Grid Demonstration Projection, both of which got funding from the DOE through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The former, which will cost $35.5 million, received $15.8 million. In addition to the new smart meters, it will see the creation of a communications network that will allow all the meters to receive and transmit data.
The latter, which will cost $4.7 million and received a $2.4 million grant, will demonstrate the capabilities of smart meters and AMI. It entails replacing electric meters with smart meters at 8,000 member homes located in the Lakes Region, mostly in Meredith and Moultonborough where the utility has the highest concentration of members.
Additionally, 1,000 demand-response switches will be installed at members' homes in the demonstration project area. The switches can remotely control devices such as water heaters and thermal storage devices, the co-op said, helping to reduce members' peak load and, with it, the cost of electricity for the entire membership.
Also, 500 in-home displays will be installed in members' residences, which the co-op said would allow them to "understand their energy use patterns, view real-time usage data, historical data and actual costs."
Doug Bergholm, the co-op's metering manager, envisions the NHEC, with members' prior approval, being able to slightly decrease energy flowing to a residence or business at times of peak demand. He also said it was possible that a "home area network" could monitor energy use and report it to a member via his or her personal digital assistant.
Cumulatively, "the potential is really exciting," said Shaheen, who added that she wanted to come back to the co-op once the smart meters were installed and the data they are reporting back is studied.
She called the money spent on "smart grid" technology "a downpayment on what we have to do as we're transitioning to the new energy economy."
Stephen Kaminski, the NHEC's vice-president for power resources and access, said several ski areas in northern New Hampshire already use the "smart grid" technology to help them determine the best time to buy electricity to most cost-effectively operate their snowmaking equipment.
NHEC Executive Vice-President Ray Gosney acknowledged that electricity costs were likely to continue to rise in the future but he added that the "smart grid" technology "will give our members a better handle on how and when they're using energy. In combination with changes we can make in how our members pay for electricity, it can help offset that increase."
Earl Hansen, chair of the co-op's board of directors, said the federal grants "spurred us on" to undertake the "smart grid" project, "and now we're going to do it" sooner rather than later, thanks to the ARRA money which will cover 55 percent of the project cost.