Screen shot 2009-10-27 at 10.57.24 AMLargely ignored by the national media, California passed the first statewide Smart Grid bill in the U.S. earlier this month, amid the flurry of renewable energy and efficiency legislation Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also signed.

Now enacted, Senate Bill 17, requires the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to develop an overarching plan for Smart Grid deployment — the installation of smart meters, data networks and other infrastructure for a cleaner, more efficient electrical grid by — by July 1, 2010. It also mandates that utilities with more than 100,000 customers pitch their own detailed timelines by July 1, 2011.

Under the measure, utilities’ strategies for Smart Grid roll out must meet the terms set out by the broader PUC plan in order to ensure compatibility, and make sure none of the utilities are stepping on each others’ toes. The PUC will also be required to report on a yearly basis, starting on Jan. 1, 2011, to the governor and legislature on the progress being made in improvements to the electrical grid.

SB 17 is the first bill in California to focus exclusively on the Smart Grid. Considering how much drama and tension surrounded Governor Schwarzenegger’s veto of renewable energy legislation and subsequent executive order, it’s understandable how the bill slipped by relatively unnoticed. On top of that, it didn’t make much of a splash among utilities, many saying they are already in compliance with whatever plan is released by the PUC.

As is, California appears to be ahead of the Smart Grid game. Three of the nation’s top five utilities most active in Smart Grid deployment are located in California: San Diego Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric and Edison International. PG&E alone has installed 3.7 million smart meters throughout its coverage area in Northern California alone. There has been some pushback from utility customers, concerned that the meters will up their electricity bills, but this response will probably not be unique to California as more states roll out advanced meters to the masses.

One of the chief arguments in support of the bill, sponsored by state senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), is that a statewide policy on the Smart Grid could encourage more federal funding, which in turn would create more in-state jobs. Today, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the distribution of $3.4 billion in stimulus grants to utilities working on Smart Grid initiatives, but there are expected to be more waves of support in the future, and California wants to be well positioned by then.

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[Image from Electric Power Research Institute]