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Advocates propose consumers’ power bill of rights

By: TONY REID |

Consumer advocates say families and businesses need an energy bill of rights to make sure they are not shortchanged with the coming of “smart electricity meters” and an enhanced power grid.

The Citizens Utility Board and the Environmental Defense Fund have partnered to file the “Open Data Access Framework” with Illinois utility regulators. The document lays down a series of proposed rights that, if approved, are designed to give power customers immediate access to the flood of personal energy use data generated by devices such as the advanced new electricity meters.

The sophisticated meters, capable of analyzing power usage and transmitting the results, are being installed in a rolling program by utilities such as Ameren Illinois.

In a statement, CUB and the Environmental Defense Fund said the Open Data Access Framework “declares the customer is the principal owner of retail electric consumption data, and the utility is a guardian of such data.”

CUB said adequate privacy safeguards are already in place, but rules are needed to ensure timely access to personal power use information for consumers who want it.

“Customers should have access to their retail electric consumption data in as short an interval as possible,” CUB and Environmental Defense Fund the say. “Real time if accessed directly from the smart meter, or within an hour if through the Internet.”

CUB Executive Director David Kolata said smart meter information opens up a bright new world of potential consumer savings and energy use management. But he warns that world will be a lot darker if consumers can’t get fast access to all the information they need.

“Customers are paying a fair amount of money for smart meter technology, and we do think it will be a good investment if done right,” added Kolata. “But we don’t want to see a situation where we get the bill and not all the benefits.”

The state’s power system regulator, the Illinois Commerce Commission, has assigned an administrative law judge to review Open Data Access Framework, the first document of its kind in the nation.

Utility companies and anyone else will now be able to make comments and objections. CUB is hoping the framework will be accepted and adopted in time for Ameren Illinois to include it in its smart grid deployment plans, which are due for review in April 2015.

The Environmental Defense Fund is keen to support consumer information access because it says it promotes efficiency: “Giving customers access to their energy data can reduce their electricity costs and cut harmful pollution,” said Andrew Barbeau, an Environmental Defense Fund consultant.