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Smart grid penny pinching is Monday’s sobering news of note. According to Smart Grid Today (subscription req.), Michigan utility Consumers Energy may be cutting capital spending to avoid sticking it to the state’s economically struggling customers with rate increases. That could mean shaving $400 million off the utility’s $900 million smart grid plans, with uncertain impacts on projects including a 1.6 million smart meter deployment (Consumers is doing a pilot project with Big 5 meter maker Elster, as well as a pilot of WiMax-networked smart meters with General Electric). State regulators are wary of allowing utilities to raise customer rates for projects that won’t quickly pay off in cheaper power — witness Maryland state regulators’ decision to compel Baltimore Gas & Electric to pay for its $500 million smart meter deployment without raising rates. The lesson for the smart grid industry is clear — get cheaper, and fast.