Bills Aimed at Meter Data Privacy & Renewables Pass

By Published On: April 23, 2010

A bill to protect consumer data disclosed by so-called “smart meters” was approved by the Senate Energy, Utilities, & Communications Committee April 20. In addition to privacy safeguards for investor-owned utility ratepayers, SB 837 by Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter) attempts to establish state policy on meter shutoffs. The two-way meters reveal when you are home, your activity--be it TV watching, using a computer, or cooking, and “how efficient your dish washer is,” Florez said. Smart meters keep close tabs on residential energy use and the resulting data should be kept from marketing exploitation, consumer advocates insisted. The bill also seeks to rein in remote disconnections enabled by the new meters. Customer utility shutoffs jumped 19 percent last year compared to the previous year and the average customer experiencing a shutoff had to pay up to $71 in fees to re-establish service, according to a Division of Ratepayer Advocates report. “We don’t want the new technology driving the shutoffs, which is not the only method of [revenue] collection,” said Mark Toney, The Utility Reform Network executive director. State regulators are taking a closer look at the investor-owned utility remote disconnection policies. (Current, Feb. 5, 2010). The California Public Utilities Commission also is investigating thousands of ratepayer complaints about high bills, and their meters’ accuracy, particularly from Florez’s constituents in the San Joaquin Valley. The Senator said the aim of his bill was not duplication but to codify consumer protections. SB 837 codifies consumer privacy protections in the state Civil Code and not the California Public Utilities Code. Investor-owned utilities did not welcome that provision. “Moving it to the Civil Code would create inconsistent treatment with the communication utilities,” said Kelly Boyd, Southern California Edison lobbyist. The bill passed 6-3. The panel also passed a measure that allows the California Energy Commission to identify zones with high renewable energy generation potential. Senator Loni Hancock’s (D-Berkeley) SB 1153 has the commission name zones much like those identified and ranked by the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative group. RETI is focused on targeting transmission corridors that could accommodate higher renewable levels in the state. “It is another tool to implement the work of RETI,” Hancock said, noting her bill focused on generation not transmission. SB 1153 aims to create Programmatic Environmental Impact Reports for designated renewable zones beyond those in the desert, under the California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. The desert plan was created by an executive order issued by the governor to promote alternative energy development in the desert in Southern California. Padilla questioned the impact of establishing renewable generation zones in the cash-strapped state and on commission staff, which has a heavy workload and staffing shortages. “We do not anticipate the need for additional resources,” said Robin Smutny-Jones, Energy Commission assistant executive director. Another bill passed requires improved notification to financially struggling ratepayers about their eligibility for the federal earned income tax credit. SB 1154 by Senator Gill Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), passed 6-0, aims to piggy back on mailers sent to those receiving utility bill assistance and also to notify them of the federal credit availability. Also approved was SB 1097 by Senator Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks) to require utilities to take over electricity and gas served in mobile home parks. The bill mandates that utilities purchase the in-park systems--the vast majority of which are aging and substandard--and sets appraisal criteria. Mobile home parks serve 340,000 people. Many of the park owners provide electricity and gas. It passed on an 8-2 vote. Bills that failed included one rebuking Pacific Gas & Electric for trying to stop Marin’s Community Choice Aggregation program, as well as the utility’s sponsorship of Proposition 16. Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), author of SB 1441, objects to PG&E helping shape the law allowing communities to aggregate power demand and supply energy, then doing an about face. “What good is their word?” Leno said. “We have been fully disrespected.” Democratic lawmakers took issue with PG&E’s anti-public power measure, but refused to support the bill. PG&E’s support for Proposition 16 is “heavy handed and a disguised power grab, but this bill isn’t the way to respond,” said Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego). Leno said he would try again, but limit his legislation to putting a legal requirement in the CCA law. The law currently requires utilities to “fully cooperate” with cities planning to offer aggregated power supplies to their community. Another bill, SB 1198, fell by the wayside. It sought to delay Energy Commission efficiency standards for TVs to make way for possible federal standards. The Energy Commission’s Smutny-Jones warned against delaying the first-in-the-nation TV standards, which will reduce the need for additional power plants to meet peak demand. “TVs have become the gas guzzlers of the appliance industry,” she said. SB 1198 by Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) specifically would have delayed the standards set for 2010 and 2013 and attempted to require the commission to redo its energy savings calculations.

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