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Setting EDI Standards: Business Beats Technology

Fortnightly Magazine - February 15 1999

to the ability of the [utilities] to extract the essential information."

Should this "data extraction" problem excuse utilities from going beyond consumption data to provide interval data, such as actual meter reads?

In the Connecticut EDI proceeding, NorAm Energy Management Inc. intervened to argue that if a utility had access to interval (e.g., hourly) metering data, it would have an advantage over electric suppliers if it did not provide them with the same information. The issue arose again in Pennsylvania, where GPU expressed concern that it might be required to produce actual hourly demand data by customer account, "even when interval data does not exist."

The PUC put the utility at ease: "We do not expect the metering entity to transmit data that exceeds the general capability of the metering equipment installed at the customer's site, nor do we anticipate the installation or use of any interval meter which would not be directly related to the method used for billing the customer."

The PUC then added, "We do not believe that it is reasonable to imply that [a supplier] would develop a customer price schedule that does not reflect the [utility's] tariff rates nor the physical capability of the customer's installed metering device."

Thus, the PUC policy might appear to discourage supplier innovation in services and pricing. It would bar supplier pricing strategies not possible using current metering equipment, and the PUC's most recent incarnation of metering rules would not require unbundling, but would only require utilities to install advanced meters or related devices on a written request from both a customer and the customer's supplier.

In the Connecticut case, however, the commission denied a request by CellNet for incentives for advanced or network metering. It feared that such incentives could discriminate against rural areas, which already suffered inferior reliability. It explained that current metering capability (with utilities free to offer metering options to customers) was "adequate" for retail competition, as state law didn't permit competitive metering or billing.

Too Indifferent?

It was just this problem - older meters limiting customer choice - that had persuaded California regulators to include competitive metering as an essential element of that state's competitive regime. However, that move unwittingly delayed EDI in California, when the PSWG reported back to the PUC last July by recommending the ANSI C12.19 standard for data format at the meter equipment level, but without any consensus for a data communications standard at the meter server level.

The PSWG report had suggested that so-called "plug-and-play" standardization was impossible: "[H]aving universal interoperability and interchangeability between the meter and data retrieval technologies is not feasible without constraining technological alternatives."

However, in a joint statement issued last fall, the California Office of Ratepayer Advocates questioned that claim, joined by the Electric Power Research Institute and Standards Coordinating Committee 31 of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers:

"If true interoperability is to be achieved, all the pieces of the system must be linked through a completely defined set of standard interfaces."

On Dec. 17, in a complex decision running over 100 pages, the PUC cautioned