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Making a stronger business case for smart grid tech

The news wasn’t welcome by anyone at Duke Energy.

This May, Indiana regulators rejected a proposal from the utility to raise customers’ rates, saying the company hadn’t providing adequate details for its $1.9 billion, seven-year plan that, among other things, would have expanded its deployment of smart-grid technology.

Kerwin Olson, executive director of an organization called Citizens Action Coalition, seemed happy.

“Duke failed to meet their burden of proof,” he told reporters. “The law clearly spells out criteria that the utility has to get in order to meet this kind of approval. And this is a lot of money.”

Justified or not, Duke was forced to go back to the drawing board.

As a project manager who helps direct the production of reports designed to make the case for higher rates, and whose work is regularly scrutinized by her utility’s top executives, the folks in operations, ratepayers and regulators, Duke’s Tracy Tinsley knows the routine all too well.

It can be easy for a utility to lose badly in the court of public opinion, and even the biggest, most sophisticated utilities can find themselves struggling to overcome the challenges of regulators bent on denying even the smallest of rate increases.

Speaking Monday at the Itron Knowledge Conference in Los Angeles, Tinsley offered her fellow utility workers some advice on how to do a better job of justifying every dollar they spend.

For starters, they need to focus on the customer to make the strongest business case, she said.

The best defense of the investment required, she said, includes details on how customers will be able to use the technology to obtain daily usage information. Regulators and consumer watchdogs also need to hear about how the technology can help encourage conservation, make possible new products and services, and smooth out the process involved in remove orders.

Read full article at Energy Biz