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CUB advances bill to unleash energy data in the consumer interest

You’ve probably seen news coverage of many of the energy-related bills being discussed at the Minnesota legislature so far this year. I want to let you know about one important bill for energy consumers that hasn’t received as much attention.

CUB is working with Representative Jamie Long and Senator David Senjem, lead authors on legislation that would unleash the potential of energy data in a way that protects ratepayers.

New technologies like smart meters are being installed by utilities across the state, generating much more data than was imagined when Minnesota’s energy laws were written. Hundreds of millions of dollars of utility consumer money is being invested in these technologies, and the data that they produce should be available to individual customers and in the public interest.

The bill (HF 1683/HF 2681 and SF 2054) would give consumers in all parts of the state equal right to access their own energy data. Customers can better understand how to save money on their energy coats when they have easy access to the data from their meters. Mission Data reviewed more than a dozen studies and estimates this will help customers save between 6 to 18%.

The bill would also allow a consumer to share their own data with a third party, if they would like to do so. For example, a consumer doing upgrades on their home could allow a contractor to look at their past utility data to help determine what kinds of energy efficiency measures the consumer should consider or if they are a good candidate for solar panels.

The bill would open up what’s called “summary energy data.” That’s a data set that includes so many customers that no single customer could be identified. A group like CUB could use summary energy data to study different rate design options or programs to help people use energy more efficiently.

For example, the Citizens Utility Board of Illinois used summary energy data from 300,000 households in the Chicago area to model how customers would fare under a “real-time pricing” program. They found that 97% of the households in the study would have paid less for electricity under real-time pricing, without changing when they used electricity – saving nearly $30 million.

In Minnesota, this kind of analysis can’t be done by anyone except the utility, because we don’t yet have access to summary energy data. That limits how effective CUB can be, especially as we’re trying to find and support solutions before the Public Utilities Commission. Allowing access to summary energy data in a way that protects consumer privacy helps to address, at least a little bit, the imbalance of information between utilities and everyone else in these settings.

Finally, the bill prohibits a utility – or a third party who’s been granted access – from selling or sharing consumers’ energy data. This prevents your utility from acting like Facebook and Google and using your data for profit.

This is the first bill that CUB has advanced at the legislature. In the three years since CUB was founded, we’ve seen examples of consumers having trouble accessing their own energy data, and we have struggled to understand the effects of potential new rates and programs on the real consumers that we work with. This bill will help to protect utility ratepayers and help customers and advocates make energy systems more efficient.

The bill is currently moving forward at the legislature. It’s a part of the omnibus energy package in the House of Representatives, carried by energy committee chair Representative Jean Wagenius (HF 1833), and it will likely be on the table when the House and Senate get together to work out energy legislation later this year in conference committee.

We’ll keep you up to date as the bill moves forward.

 

Author: Annie Levenson-Falk

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