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Electric Meter Deregulation: Potholes on the Road to Plug-and-Play

Fortnightly Magazine - September 15 1998

of it. The ESPs certainly made their perceived needs explicit and, in fact are now providing these alternative services, although mostly to larger customers.

"But it isn't so much about what ESPs need," he adds, "or what utilities don't need, as about what their customers need: choice."

With a reason to deregulate, California set out to define the parameters for a new metering industry. In July 1997, a workshop on meter and data communications standards proposed a balkanized structure featuring a meter service provider to install and maintain the physical equipment and a meter data management agent to validate raw meter output, add correlated information to characterize the customer and then make data available to all the other players who might need it in California's competitive energy industry - such as the utility distribution company, the scheduling coordinators and the independent system operator. On July 29 the PSWG, the permanent standards working group, issued still another report on technical standards, marked by disputes among meter vendors over data formats and communications protocols.

Other states appear further behind, with the situation particularly muddled in Pennsylvania, where legislative committees have rejected generic rules, but a settlement has given the go-ahead to PECO Energy. (See sidebar, "Setting Standards - Four Key States.")

At first the New York Public Service Commission stuck with the status quo, voting last year to maintain metering as a utility function, but it also asked for recommendations on a competitive scheme. That report was delivered to regulatory staffers on Aug. 17 as drafted by five separate working groups: (1) meter ownership and control, (2) information flow policy, (3) information flow technology, (4) regulations and (5) load profiling. Afterwards, according to Goodstadt, an independent consultant will analyze the working group reports and file its own study, due in November.

"The commission won't likely do much until 1999," adds Goodstadt. "The debate over standards has not yet begun in New York. And arguments between vendors haven't occurred yet, either, and I don't know if they will."

Opinions were mixed in Arizona, where Tucson Electric, Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service and Enron Capital and Trade Resources each staked out a different position in comments filed after the Unbundled Services and Standard Offer Working Group filed its initial report in November 1997. Last month the state commission approved at least some rules, but many issues remain, according to Paul Taylor, engineer and executive consultant at R.W. Beck's Phoenix office: "I'm the head of the open architecture subgroup of the metering subcommittee. We have to report back by July 1, 1999, six months after the state's electric industry opens up. I don't know yet what the recommendations will be on open architecture. It's just a big ugly messy issue."

An Open Structure:

The Battle Over Standards

"One of the difficulties," explains the CEC's Michael Jaske, "was the charter from the California PUC. What did it want to get accomplished?"

Few doubt that open architecture, interoperability, can help remove commercial bottlenecks. That was made clear by minority comments submitted by independent consultant (and engineer) August J.