Engaging the consumer takes on new meaning.
Lori A. Burkhart is Fortnightly’s managing editor.
When utilities across the country began rolling out smart-grid and dynamic-pricing programs, many expected some push-back from customers who would resist changes in their static rate plans. But few expected these initiatives to turn into full-blown controversies. Consumers in several jurisdictions—reacting to utility initiatives they didn’t understand—unleashed a tirade of opposition against smart-metering and dynamic-pricing programs.
By now the examples are well known: class-action lawsuits in California and Texas; picketing outside the offices of the California Public Utilities Commission; rate-case rejections in such states as Maryland and Massachusetts; and even a possible municipalization of the utility system in Boulder, Colo.
Right or wrong, many consumers distrust utilities’ planned use of customer data and their ability to control power usage in the home, and this has proved to be a major challenge in utilities’ efforts to communicate the benefits to customers. This challenge isn’t just affecting utilities’ communications approaches, but also their strategic, regulatory and financial plans.