As the year unfolds, Californians are likely to inch closer to a new relationship with their power utilities in which customers pay based on fluctuating real-time price. So-called real-time pricing of power for residences is possible--though not yet enabled--with \u201csmart\u201d meters. The move to real-time pricing for residential customers could be advanced under a pending California Public Utilities Commission decision. The commission initially had scheduled action on the decision June 9, but delayed consideration until later this month. The pending decision sets out privacy rules for energy usage data produced by digital meters. It calls for pilot programs at each of the state\u2019s investor-owned utilities in which they would provide real-time price information and install home area networks in some residences. Customers who use the information to reduce their electricity use when prices are high would save money. To do so, they would use home area networks. The devices communicate with meters and energy using equipment, such as air conditioning and heating systems, appliances, and conceivably lighting. Consumers could program the networks to turn off these energy using devices when power prices are high. Utilities are supposed to launch the pilot programs within six months of the decision\u2019s adoption. Customers participating in the projects are supposed to get information showing the changing price of electricity in either hourly or 15-minute increments then use the data to manage their utility bills. The commission\u2019s draft decision has sparked controversy, with some companies, ratepayer advocates, and clean energy groups saying that the projects should be conducted by independent third-party companies. This, some say, would assure an open and level playing field for emerging household energy management technology companies in the years ahead. \u201cThe Utility Reform Network completely opposes this additional incursion of utilities into the role that is supposed to be played by the competitive market,\u201d Marcel Hawiger, attorney for the ratepayer group, wrote to the commission June 2. First, according to Hawiger, other ratepayers should not have to pay for cost of the pilot programs. Second, he wrote, the programs could stymie efforts to develop a uniform communications protocol between the meters and home area network devices by rushing ahead with installation of devices before those national standards are worked out. OPOWER, an energy information management company, wants changes to the commission\u2019s decision too. Company attorney Michael Sachse advised in a filing early this month that the commission should not allow customers who do not enroll in pilot programs to opt-out of being placed in a control group. To determine how the real time pricing scheme works in the pilot programs, utilities would have to compare energy use of enrollees to similar residential customers who do not receive the pricing data or have home area networks. Sachse claimed allowing customers to opt out of being part of such a control group would make it harder and more expensive to conduct the pilot studies. That\u2019s because utilities would have to keep soliciting control group participants until they could find enough. Pacific Gas & Electric did not contest the commission\u2019s call for the pilot studies, but noted that utilities should be able to recover their costs from ratepayers. The pilot projects are incorporated into the commission\u2019s larger decision outlining privacy rules aimed at protecting customer energy usage data created by smart meters. The data can reveal significant details about activities in homes, including, for instance, whether people are home and even what devices they are using at various times. The commission is developing the rules to carry out a law enacted last year, SB 1476, which calls for energy usage record privacy protection (Current, Dec. 3, 2010).