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SoCal Edison's Ziegler says regional focus on global warming will not be effective

As California leads the way in creating a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions, the state's utilities are responding to the mandate. During today's OnPoint, Southern California Edison's Senior Vice President of Customer Service Lynda Ziegler discusses the new mandate. She talks about her company's efforts to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewables. Ziegler also discusses SoCal Edison's new next-generation meters, which will give customers real-time readings of energy usage.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Lynda Ziegler, senior vice president of customer service at Southern California Edison. Lynda, thanks for joining me.

Lynda Ziegler: Thank you for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Lynda, several weeks ago California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California lawmakers signed a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan into law. It sets emissions limits for companies like yours and your parent company, Edison International, did not support the bill initially. How is the company responding now that the bill is in law?

Lynda Ziegler: We're really still studying the bill to see what the implications are. So we're in the process of reviewing that and determining what it is we need to do and how we can respond to the bill.

Monica Trauzzi: Does your company plan to fight it in court?

Lynda Ziegler: Not to my knowledge, at this point, no.

Monica Trauzzi: Is it unfair that the utilities are being targeted more than other industries?

Lynda Ziegler: Well, obviously, we all know that automobiles are a huge creator of greenhouse gas. So we would be encouraged if automobiles were addressed as well.

Monica Trauzzi: Does this just mean that California is going to start importing power from its surrounding states even more?

Lynda Ziegler: Well, California is part of the Western grid. And we have, and will continue to import power. I don't believe that that will create a greater import of power. You have to have transmission lines to import power, so the entire system is constrained by how much you can import into the state.

Monica Trauzzi: What's your company's stance on global warming? Is it happening? Is it man-made?

Lynda Ziegler: Well, the science is obviously looking at global warming. We certainly want to have a "no regrets" policy on it. We do a number of things. We have one of the highest renewable portfolios in the country. We have one of the largest energy efficiency programs in the country. We do a demand response so that our customers will cut peak, which helps reduce the use of peaker plans. Also, we have the largest electrical vehicle fleet in the country as well, so we're not burning gasoline in the vast majority of our light-duty vehicles.

Monica Trauzzi: Lynda, your company has said that it would prefer national action on global warming. That might not happen for a few years. So is California's new plan a good plan for the interim?

Lynda Ziegler: Well, our position is global warming is the air that moves all over the world, so addressing it in one spot doesn't really move it forward. We would prefer to see a national plan, as opposed to a local regional plan.

Monica Trauzzi: Some critics would say that Southern California Edison, as DG&E, PG&E, are opposing measures to spur renewable energy development. But your company does tout being number one in the nation in providing electricity from renewable sources. What percentage of your customers are actually receiving electricity from renewable sources?

Lynda Ziegler: Well, we have about 18 percent of our power that comes from renewable sources. I haven't actually translated that into the number of customers, but it's 18 percent of the power that we purchase.

Monica Trauzzi: What steps is you company taking to increase that number?

Lynda Ziegler: We are constantly out with requests for offers for new renewable. We recently, earlier this year, announced a project with Sterling, which is a solar project. And we are building transmission into the areas where wind can be produced. So we have a number of fronts where we're working to increase the use of renewables.

Monica Trauzzi: Southern California Edison receives revenue for transmitting electricity, so when the grid is overloaded you make money. Is this an incentive for your company to not improve the system?

Lynda Ziegler: No, not at all. We make money by building poles and wires, an investment, so we are incented to make sure that there's plenty of capacity on the system to serve our customers.

Monica Trauzzi: Your company is now introducing these next-generation type meters. And, basically, a customer will be able to get a real time reading of energy usage. Talk about the meters a little.

Lynda Ziegler: We have been working on this for over a year. And we started out with what we call a clean sheet approach, which is to define what would we want the meter to do? What would we want the system to do? And we are extremely gratified that the industry has responded, and we just recently received a first meter that will meet all of our needs. And what that will do is it will allow customers to have price signals. So since we all know electricity is more expensive to produce in the peak hours, normally for California in the afternoon, we can send customers price signals so that they could cut back during those expensive times. Also, the meter will be able to communicate with devices in the home. So if we wanted to set the thermostat up to save energy on the air conditioning, or possibly communicate with a plug-in hybrid vehicle in the future, we'll have that capability.

Monica Trauzzi: Will customers need to pay for these meters and will all your customers eventually have to have these in their homes and buildings?

Lynda Ziegler: The cost for the meters and the system will go into rates. All of our 5.2 million customers will get the new meters. By the year 2012 we expect to be completed replacing all of the meters.

Monica Trauzzi: And how has industry responded to this? How are the other utility companies responding to it?

Lynda Ziegler: We have had an incredible amount of interest. We've actually formed a consortium with other utilities who are interested in this, and we're trying to set some common standards for the industry. Also, through our process we've been very open. We've put all of our requirements and all of our information on our web site. So the manufacturers, as well as other utilities, can see what we're doing. And with that way we hope to move the market.

Monica Trauzzi: Much of the plan focuses on costs, and that's obviously something that's very important to your customers. Talk about some of the environmental benefits that will come from having these meters.

Lynda Ziegler: Well, as I said earlier, the meters will allow us to give price signals to customers, so I think there will be a couple of effects. They'll be able to reduce load during on-peak, which basically allows us to use the more efficient generation. And, secondly, we also think that they'll provide a conservation affect and reduce load generally, which is, you know, obviously a kilowatt hour not produced is not producing any pollution.

Monica Trauzzi: What kind of implementation time line are you looking at?

Lynda Ziegler: We are starting a pilot in 2007 where we'll test about 10 to 15,000 meters, test the communication system, test the meters. And then we plan on starting full implementation in the summer of 2008.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, great. Final question, we're almost out of time. A recent DOE report cited Southern California as one of two U.S. region facing critical shortages of power lines. Obviously, getting electricity to Californians is a challenge. How do you think the state fared this summer?

Lynda Ziegler: Actually, we did very well. We had a heat storm that many people have called a 1-in-50 heat storm. The supply held out really well. The transmission system held out very well. What we saw was, at the local level, our distribution transformers that serve maybe five to ten customers, overheated because they never got an opportunity to cool down. But the bulk generation system and the transmission system both performed very well.

Monica Trauzzi: And you expect that these meters will help on that front as well in future summers?

Lynda Ziegler: Yes. If you think about it, you have the generation supply side, and the meters will help the customers become part of the entire system to control the demand side, so it's the other side of the equation.

Monica Trauzzi: OK. Lynda, thanks for joining me.

Lynda Ziegler: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

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