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Feds want data from electric smart meters shared in a "non-discriminatory" way with customers

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Less than 3% of taxpayer funded smart meters actually deliver what they're capable of to customers, according to a report by a tech consortium called Mission:data.

More than a decade ago, the federal government gave 77 power companies a billion dollars in tax money to buy and install smart meters. It was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Ever since the Northeast blackout in 2003 revealed the shortcomings of the electric grid system, there’s been a push for a “smart grid.” Part of that starts at homes and businesses. Better understanding of when and how power is used is important data for utility companies. It’s also important for customers who can use that data to communicate with smart appliances and get outside analysts to help homes and businesses become more energy efficient.

So, spending tax dollars to make a “smart grid” seemed to help everyone.

When fully functional, the two-way data communication is a powerful tool for customers. But not many consumers were able to use it.

Graham, Lester
Cover of the report by Mission:data, outlining the failure of some power companies to deliver smart meter data to customers.

“What we found is that 97% of those meters had those capabilities deactivated by utilities,” said Michael Murray, Director of Mission:data, a coalition of tech companies that say they can help improve efficiency and provide stability for the electric grid. At least they could, if they could get access to the data.

Mission:data issued a report outlining how electric utilities turned off the data-sharing features of millions of smart meters.

Many of the electric utilities say the data that are gathered belong to the utility, not to the customer and certainly not to third party vendors.

They cite cybersecurity issues and expense as a couple of the reasons they cannot share real-time data with outside sources.

So, power company customers have to be content with either data released the following day, which makes it hard to react to moments of high usage, or they have to pay the utility a fee for equipment provided by the utility to communicate limited data with household appliances.

Some utilities and at least one state regulator are giving customers choices, as revealed in this report by Utility Dive.

The federal government is considering giving electric utilities another $3 billion to install more smart meters, including in Michigan. It’s part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

It’s a great deal for power companies because: 1) the utilities get tax payer money to get better data to understand power use, and 2) they don’t have to pay workers to walk to every house to read the meter.

But Mission:data's report found there’s not much direct help for customers.

“We're hopeful that that the federal government might late this year or early next year, impose some meaningful requirements so that customers are really in control of their information,” Murray said.

His group says the government must ensure better outcomes and choices for customers.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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