San Diego Gas and Electric Co. said Tuesday that prospects look good for it to begin a four-year rollout of advanced electric and gas meters later this year. The combination utility received a favorable decision by a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) administrative law judge on its proposed metering program, which still requires approval by the commission.

As part of a CPUC report distributed earlier this month, approval of the settlement is recommended, including Sempra Energy's SDG&E utility, the CPUC independent Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) and the San Diego-based Utility Consumer Action Network. The report agrees with the utility's proposed $572 million for deployment of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) through 2011.

Starting in mid-2008, SDG&E said it plans to install the first phase of what eventually will be approximately 1.4 million new AMI-enabled, solid-state electric meters and 900,000 AMI-enabled gas modules that can, among other things, measure energy use on a time-differentiated basis.

"The aim is to improve customer service by providing customer premise endpoint information, assist in gas leak and electric systems outage detection, transform the meter reading process and provide real near-term usage information to customers," a spokesperson for the utility said.

SDG&E drew the ire of the DRA with its original smart meter filing in March 2005 when the consumer protection unit calculated that the net increase in costs to ratepayers from the meter changeout would be nearly $100 million.

As the result of subsequent litigation and the pending settlement, the CPUC said a number of changes have been incorporated, including: (a) allowing meter information to be available in the home where it can interface with smart thermostats and other appliances; (b) using remote disconnect switches to allow service restoration and disconnection to be done remotely; and (c) changing the allocation of the costs of the program so residential and small business costs are cut by nearly $100 million.

In addition, an advisory panel will be used to provide oversight of the SDG&E installation and implementation of the new meters over the next four to five years.

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