Plaquemine to look at 'smart grid' utility system plan

Staff Writer
Plaquemine Post South

With “smart grid” technology for utilities, the City of Plaquemine will be able to read all meters on a single day, require customers with histories of late payments to pre-pay, and provide video surveillance for not only the utility system, but also the fire and police departments.

This was the word from Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta, just back from the Public Power Association's annual conference in Washington, D.C. The Louisiana Energy and Power Authority paid the way for Gulotta, who is serving as LEPA chairman this year.

Gulotta said some utility systems are even using the computer-driven system to shut off air conditioning in private homes to avoid setting new peak demands that drive up costs. He doesn't think the City of Plaquemine should go that far, but recommended that city officials begin looking for companies to work with to implement a smart grid here. The city would need a smart grid company and a meter company to implement the system.

“A smart grid is not a matter of if you are going to put one in, but when you put one in,” he told the Board of Selectmen last week, but said the system requiring the replacement of 15,000 utility meters would have to be phased in. “If you started installing today, it would be two years.”

So far, 20 percent of the meters for electricity, water and natural gas are “smart” meters, though currently they are more often used for water, Gulotta said.

“I am convinced we have to do this,” the mayor said.

A smart grid system would also include placing a “little box” in customer's residences that would give a running total of how much electricity a customer is using minute by minute and how much their bill is at any given time, Gulotta said.

“When it comes to energy savings, to teaching people, that was the number one tool,” he said.

It would also allow the city to require pre-payment for utilities, the mayor said: If a customer paid $100 for electricity, the city could automatically shut the service off when the customer had used that amount.

“Good” customers who have a record on paying their bills on time would be billed “the regular way,” he said.

At the conference, Gulotta said, there were several meetings on whether the information collected by the smart grid would be considered public record.