Sunday, July 25, 2010

Post # 31 -- Public Power Group Call for DOE-NARUC Collaborative on Smart Meter Privacy

Two related smart grid issues, growing increasingly important as smart meter rollouts move forward, are access to and ownership of individual consumer energy information contained in smart meters. See Post ## 3, 4, and 5. Given the overlap of federal and state jurisdiction of electric utilities (state regulation of local distribution, federal regulation of transmission), the question keeps recurring: just who should be write the rules.

This month, the American Public Power Association (APPA), representing more than 2,000 non-profit, publicly-owned electric utilities around the United States, called on the Department of Energy (DOE), which had solicited comments about current and future grid communications requirements, to create a privacy working group with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) to provide states with policy guidance.

NARUC, the association representing the state public service commissioners, already has a collaborative smart grid working group with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency with core federal responsibility over wholesale electric markets and electric transmission -- and which has been specifically charged by Congress to develop standards and protocols necessary to insure interstate smart grid functionality.

The proposed new DOE/NARUC advisory group would act as an alternative to more overt government actions, such as legislation or rulemakings, to address smart grid consumer data access and consumer privacy issues. According to APPA's comments, “public power utilities typically rely on state law and legal precedents, local ordinances, and guidance from their governing bodies to set policy.” APPA argues that, for the most part, privacy and data access policies should be determined at the state and local level.

At the same time, APPA recognizes the need for federal guidance is such areas as “identifying areas of agreement and disagreement regarding privacy and data access issues.” APPA asserts that the proposed NARUC/DOE group would allow DOE to provide continued support to the states by “compiling examples of policy guidelines and sample privacy policies.”

It is unclear whether APPA had previously discussed this proposal with either NARUC or DOE staff. And such collaborative efforts, especially involving a group like NARUC (with essentially at least 50 constituencies), often get bogged down by all their moving parts. Moreover, considering that a fully developed smart grid will be an interstate grid at its core, APPA may be minimizing the federal government's role.

Still, APPA is the principal proponent of public power in the United States, and its comments further highlight the continuing importance of the privacy issues presented by smart meters.

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