PUC SEEKS COMMENTS ON SMART METER PROCUREMENT AND INSTALLATION ISSUES

The PUC recently issued a Tentative Order seeking comment on a number of issues involved in the implementation of the deployment of smart meter technology throughout the Commonwealth and the data transactions required to support that implementation. Smart Meter Procurement and Installation, Docket No. M-2009-2092655 (Tentative Order entered June 30, 2011).

The PUC’s June 30, 2011 Order proposes a methodology for providing real time and time-of-use pricing for companies using dual billing and rate ready consolidated billing; the means by which historical interval usage data is transmitted; and, the monthly exchange of bill quality interval usage data recorded at meter level. The Commission also clarified its expectations with regard to the required functionality it wants to see in smart meter deployment plans including the ability for smart meters to provide customers with direct access to their hourly usage and price information, support for automatic control of the customer’s electric consumption by the customer, the utility or the customer’s agent (at the discretion of the customer) and to allow for direct meter access or electronic access to the customer meter data to third parties with customer consent.

Lacking in this order, and left for resolution elsewhere, is the issue of what type of customer consent is required for access to the meter and for access to interval meter data. The issueThe issue of interval usage data privacy has been raised recently by a number of privacy and customer advocates who are concerned that interval meter data in the wrong hands can pose many threats to customers. The specific concern is that in the hands of someone who is capable of correctly interpreting the data, it can be used to learn much about a particular household’s behavior, such as what times they are home or not home, what appliances they use and when and on and on. Accordingly, these advocates want to restrict access to such data and to require affirmative customer consent before such data is released, and in some cases, before it is even gathered. For some, the concerns even involve the potential for the government to use such information to spy on its citizens, creating a very real, “big brother” scenario, law enforcement agencies already have used electric usage information as a basis of probable cause for search warrants, so the idea is not much of a stretch. Some have even raised the concern that customers be able to opt out of having a smart meter installed.

The Office of Consumer Advocates comments in response to the PUC’s Reconsideration Order in Interim Guidelines for Eligible Customer Lists, Docket Nos. M-2009-2183412, et seq. (Order entered June 13, 2011); exerted significant effort on addressing the need for express and affirmative customer consent to the release of any real time usage data. The OCA argues that any data derived from real time metering is subject to such provision under Act 129, 66 Pa. C.S. § 2807(f)(3). Others would argue that only the real time data or access to the meter is subject to the restriction. It is clear that the statute requires some form of customer consent, but so far the PUC has yet to provide guidance on what form that consent must take.

Comments to the data exchange questions posed by the Order are due on July 30, 2011. Reply comments at Docket Nos. M-2009-2183412 are due July 28, 2011.

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