North Carolina regulators change smart grid rules for utilities

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The North Carolina Utilities Commission on June 13 amended certain of its rules pertaining to utilities’ smart grid technology plans.

As noted in the NCUC’s June 13 order, the NCUC last November issued an order approving SGTPs, declining to schedule a hearing, and requesting comments on rule revisions. In that 2015 order, the NCUC noted that it has a need to understand new technology, as well as its economic and policy implications.

“As a means of expanding the commission’s understanding of new grid technologies, this first smart grid proceeding has had some limitations,” the NCUC said in its 2015 order. “Short of presiding over an evidentiary hearing, there is no mechanism in the current rules for the commission to pose questions or dialogue with the utilities and parties about the issues posed by technology choices.”

The public staff’s numerous recommendations that future SGTPs contain additional information inform the NCUC’s finding that the current result are deficient, the NCUC said, adding that while it could increase the SGTP filing requirements, that approach could become burdensome for the utilities because of the wide range of questions that the NCUC and parties might want addressed.

In addition, while evidentiary hearings can be valuable, that aspect of the current rule appears to invite litigation, which in this sphere the NCUC believes is unproductive, the NCUC added in its 2015 order. Therefore, the NCUC requested that parties file comments suggesting ways that the smart grid rules could be amended to enhance the informative aspects of future smart grid proceedings while reducing the litigious aspects of the current rules.

The NCUC noted in its June 13 order that comments were filed jointly last December by Duke Energy’s Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress (together referred to in the order as Duke); Dominion Resource’s Dominion North Carolina Power; the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association; and the public staff.

The NCUC added that Duke said that in the interest of eliminating litigation, the companies are willing to consider other means to share information with the NCUC and other interested stakeholders in addition to the formal written SGTP filings. For instance, the NCUC could choose to have the companies make biennial presentations to the NCUC about the status of their SGTPs, allowing the NCUC to ask questions in an informative and non-litigious setting.

While Duke said that those presentations could occur without a rule change, and Dominion said that rule changes are not necessary at this time, the NCSEA advocated rule changes in order to:

·      Require utilities to describe the technologies and provide the cost-benefit analyses for the technologies that it has decided to deploy, as well as those it has decided not to deploy in the next five years

·      Require utilities to describe in each biennial SGTP, for instance, the details of all historical customer usage information that is regularly provided on customer bills

·      Require utilities to explain whether and how a third party would have access to customer usage data

The NCUC added that the public staff recommended:

·      Expanding the definition of smart grid technologies to include the frameworks, architectural platforms, interactive media and other data exchanges that allow utilities and customers to access, interpret and respond to data related to the operation and consumption of electric utility services

·      Increasing the amount of information on projects or initiatives that are under consideration, but not necessarily planned or scheduled for implementation in the next five years

·      Increasing information on the rollout of automated metering infrastructure (AMI) in the state, and the functionality of the AMI systems

·      Including information on the availability of customer usage information to customers, as well as the process by which customers can authorize release of that information to third parties

The public staff subsequently told the NCUC that it was working with the utilities and the NCSEA to develop a consensus as to the rule changes that are needed and in January, the public staff filed proposed rule revisions on behalf of all of the parties, the NCUC said.

The proposed amendments provided that:

·      Rather than provide a cost-benefit analysis for each planned smart grid investment, the revised rules would require the utility to provide the analysis it used to describe whether to pursue – or not pursue – a particular smart grid initiative and the schedule of its planned capital expenditures

·      The utilities would file more information about pilot projects and their results

·      The revised rules would incorporate requirements from the NCUC’s November 2015 smart grid order that required the utilities to file more information about the status of their AMI deployments in their 2016 SGTPs

The NCUC added that it has reviewed the parties’ consensus proposal and finds that it is appropriate to adopt all of the proposed rule changes with the exception of the parties’ proposed “section (d).”

The NCUC said that while that proposed section is an improvement over the current rules, the NCUC prefers to simplify the provision further by, for instance, clarifying that the NCUC would conclude a smart grid plan proceeding by “accepting” a plan instead of by “approving” a plan in order to reinforce that the NCUC is not approving the recovery of any costs associated with the accepted plan.

The NCUC noted that it adopts a modified version of “section (d)” so that it states, for instance, that within 30 days of the filing of each utility’s smart grid technology update report, the public staff is to report to the NCUC whether each utility’s update report meets the filing requirements of the rule, and that the NCUC may schedule SGTP update presentations by the utilities.

“With these changes, as well as those proposed by the parties, the commission finds that the amended rules will better focus the SGTP proceedings as an informative effort to assist the commission and parties in anticipating the potential impact of new technologies on customers,” the commission said.

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